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The SSSCA considered harmful

by tilly (Archbishop)
on Mar 01, 2002 at 16:58 UTC ( #148605=perlmeditation: print w/replies, xml ) Need Help??

My apologies for an OT post, but I truly believe that the SSSCA, which is under draft in the Senate, would utterly destroy software as we know it in the US. Therefore it is in the interest of a significant portion of people on PerlMonks to see that it never happens.

What follows is the text of an email that I wrote, which I would like to see be distributed under the title, "The SSSCA Considered Harmful".

On Thursday, Feb 28, 2002 Senator Hollings lead a hearing on his proposed Security Systems Standards and Certification Act, known as the SSSCA.

The problem, as Mike Godwin said at, is that Congress doesn't understand the technical issues involved. So we must find examples of those technical issues in contexts that they understand.

Email makes a good example. Most people are familiar with it, and it shows the relevant copyright issues.

I am sending you an email. If you like it, you might forward it to a friend with a brief comment added. You might send it back to me with corrections made. You might copy phrases out of it to put into a report or memo. It might, as with the message I linked, find its way onto a website on the Internet.

By the act of writing you this email, I have a copyright on my words. In these common tasks you have redistributed, modified, and taken away my attribution. Under the SSSCA the software cannot be allowed to let you do that because the software is failing to protect my copyright. According to Hollywood and Senator Hollings, you would be a pirate and criminal for abusing my copyrighted material. Under existing copyright law your actions might infringe, or might be fair use. Mostly it is fair use.

So how would the SSSCA solve the problem of your using email as it was designed and intended to be used? Very simply, it would make your email program illegal. The software must be rewritten. Once rewritten it cannot contain a "forward" button. It cannot allow you to copy and paste text from it. It cannot allow you to create a reply with my words included. It cannot allow you to send mail to existing email programs because they don't implement copyright protection. According to the good Senator, only pirates and criminals would want to do any of these things. My copyrighted content MUST be protected from criminals and pirates like you.

Email is but one kind of program that is affected. (Do not be fooled. The phrase they use may be "digital device", but their definition of a digital device includes virtually all software programs.) Our lives are filled with electronic content that we produce, transfer, and manipulate. Whether you paste from one Word document to another or copy a spreadsheet, features you use can violate copyrights. Therefore Senator Hollings wants to ban your software.

They call this the Security Systems Standards and Certification Act. They claim it is meant to protect poor copyright holders (like me) from criminals and pirates (like you). I call this the complete dismantling and destruction of our computer infrastructure. Please let your representatives know what you call it. You can find their contact information as follows:


Ben Tilly

PS Your email software has not (yet) been crippled in accord with the proposed SSSCA. Please feel free to use it to forward this message.

Replies are listed 'Best First'.
Patent Legislation
by simon.proctor (Vicar) on Mar 01, 2002 at 17:39 UTC
    Fitting in with the topic of patents and copyright etc, I thought I'd briefly mention that there is a similar proposal under way in the US about patenting software.

    Paraphrasing from the linked article, the US system requires that the patentable piece of software must "simply be within the technological arts" and "no specific technological contribution is needed"

    Thats more than a little scary to me.

    Fortunately the EU have just rejected this as, fortunately, the powers that be got some advisers in and actually listened. I certainly hope that it gets reconsidered in the US.

    Not coming from the US I don't know as much about it as I would like but I do feel the sentiments expressed in this thread so far certainly apply.

    For more info see here

    I was concerned that the US policy was going to be blanket across Europe and I'm glad this was not the case.
Re: The SSSCA considered harmful
by Moonie (Friar) on Mar 01, 2002 at 17:34 UTC
    There is an online petition at Oppose the SSSCA - hopefully the Senators and Congress will reconsider this proposition.

    - Moon
(ichimunki) Re: The SSSCA considered harmful
by ichimunki (Priest) on Mar 01, 2002 at 23:05 UTC
    Thank you for writing this sample email. I would like permission to create a derived version for my own use. Perhaps you would consider licensing this under the GNU GPL or an open content license? *grin*

    The SSSCA is about one thing: helping media studios sell us more stuff. In fact, as Godwin points out, the process of complying with this law would require all of us to buy new stuff, often stuff we already own! In fact, I see nowhere discussed any reason why the Philips audio CD standard will be exempted (am I wrong? please?!), as audio CDs are digital and there players will need to be equipped to protect (as in racket) the contents thereof.

    And because this isn't terribly on-topic yet, I will mention the potential drastic impact this has on Perl. This law will not be the immediate death of free software, GNU/Linux and Perl, but it is a surefire start down that path. If common general-use computer hardware is required to protect "creative" content, it can only really do this well in conjunction with software. Not too slowly this leads to a situation where first operating systems and of course applications and then even programming languages must be designed to restrict usage (especially in consumer machines). This would effectively end free software, where source code availability makes any protective routines written into either the OS, the applications, or the programming languages as easy to route around as using the Delete Key.

    <spam>At I have mirrored Fritz Hollings' opening statements from yesterday's hearing (which are open to annotation by all comers-- the site is a wiki) and started collecting links and thoughts about free speech, fair use, and technology.</spam>
      First about the impact on Perl, please re-read the various drafts of it floating around. Read section 109, paragraph 3:
      (3) Interactive digital device -- The term "interactive digital device" means "any machine, device, product, software, or technology, whether or not included with or as part of some other machine, device, product, software, or technology, that is designed, marketed or used for the primary purpose of, and that is capable of, storing, retrieving, processing, performing, transmitting, receiving, or copying information in digital form." (all emphasis mine)
      This definition manages to cover just about every useful Perl program that I have seen or written. Given that most of them have not incorporated any kind of copy protection (let alone one authorized by a government standard), they would all be illegal.

      Seems pretty much like "immediate death" to me.

      What it seems that our legislators do not understand is that Content is Not King. (See Communication Networks and Other Topics for more excellent articles from the same author on that general topic.) In peer to peer networks locally generated content dwarfs commercial content in useful measures of value. This has been true in network after network over the last 200 years. Basic connectivity is one of the biggest engines we know of behind economic growth and creative innovation. Removing connectivity is one of the fastest ways to cripple that growth.

      I didn't explain this in my email, but I hoped that it would be obvious to the reader on a personal level. As I pointed out, basic email systems incorporate a host of features which directly enable infringement on copyrights. Yet as everyone knows from experience, those exact features, in enhancing the ease of communication, are what makes email useful for communication, document workflow, etc. Conversely removing those features from email would cripple the medium, and a significant fraction of businesses along with it.

      What is the value of email? It is hard to measure that. However as Odlyzko's article points out, in polls people are split on whether they would be more willing to give up email or their phone. (I would give up my phone first.) So let us say for the sake of argument that email is comparable in value to the phone system. Well in 1997 (see Odlyzko for a citation), we spent $256.1 billion on phones. We spent (after some quick math), $188.6 billion on Hollywood, TV, radio, newspapers, and magazines combined. seems likely to me that email is worth more! And that is not even getting into the rest of the IT infrastructure, most of which is impacted by this legislation. We spent (per Intel's submission linked on your site) $600 billion on IT products in 2000, communication services not included. That is definitely worth more than all of the stories from tinsel-town.

      This is not even getting into the fact that, as has been widely pointed out (and was pointed out by Intel as well), every historical technology that content industries have railed against because it was going to destroy the value of their content has resulted in significant increases of revenue for them. Again and again they have sought relief from technology after technology that made them feel out of control. And again and again it was to their benefit. (You would think they would learn? Apparently not...)

      Therefore, even if the content industries were going to be levelled to the ground, protecting them at the cost of our IT industry would be a bad idea. But that isn't our real choice. Rather all evidence points to the conclusion that the very technologies that Hollywood is begging for protection from would prove to be yet another significant windfall for them. So we are choosing between crippling our economy to protect Hollywood, or helping both grow. Doesn't seem like a hard decision to me!

      But, while true, this is not a point that I know how to effectively make to non-technical people without their eyes glazing over. However they understand email. So I can skip the lessons on network economics and capitalism at work, and just explain what it means for how they use computers. They may not know the fancy theory, but they hopefully can extrapolate for their own lives...

      Oh shoot. Forgot to answer the licensing question. For your convenience, feel free to sublicense your copy of the original email under virtually any decent license you want. This includes without restriction any of the Open Content license you linked to, LGPL, GPL, BSD, and the Artistic License. Contact me for any license you wish to use that is not on that list (or derivable from one on that list. Please do not consider it public domain. Since a large part of the point of the email is that you are working with copyrighted text, I have no wish to relinquish my copyright.

      UPDATE 2
      For a more amusing, though basically accurate, summary of what is wrong with the SSSCA, see the following letter by Rick Bradley.

Re: The SSSCA considered harmful
by chaoticset (Chaplain) on Mar 01, 2002 at 17:14 UTC
    I certainly hope he has an email address. I need to start sending things now so that I file a few lawsuits after this thing gets passed :)

    "By the way, Senator, the police will be there in five minutes to confiscate all your hardware. You've been violating my copyright, you pirate."

    You are what you think.

Re: The SSSCA considered harmful
by vladb (Vicar) on Mar 01, 2002 at 20:20 UTC
    Living in a country neighbouring USA on the North, I also find it concerning and rather disturbing that such a harming and completely incompetent law could be even brought to a public hearing. tilly's email is excellent. I especially find the email forwarding as an act of 'evil' being a great example.

    I'm afraid that in this day and age of digital 'revolution', great evil could be brought upon existing and future technologies by computer illiterate individuals (who still live with the past) who have been granted exceptional powers to control what is, in effect, beyond their control, or even mental reach, if you'd allow me to put it this way.

    Unfortunately, being a Canadian, I guess I'm not a proper candidate for filing a petition with US 'intellectual' authorities.

    "There is no system but GNU, and Linux is one of its kernels." -- Confession of Faith
Re: The SSSCA considered harmful
by tjh (Curate) on Mar 02, 2002 at 13:35 UTC
    tilly, thanks. You're right to bring it up.

    The SSSCA is horrible public, private and science policy.

    From reports I've read, the SSSCA also contains or mandates:

    • that industry groups have a year to agree on a security standard;
    • if they don't agree on one, that the Commerce Dept will assume control and create or arbitrarily decide on one for us;
    • that Sunshine Laws would not apply to meetings concerning this law - (closed-door, private meetings could be held to make this policy/law);
    • industry organizations will be immune from anti-trust prosecution.

    Several interesting and related sites:, (contains links to the bill, new articles, representatives and a petition), another petition is here, some independent writings discussing how the law may backfire on the content providers pushing it are here.

    Red Hat details their opposition to the bill, and mentions the bill's threat to all Open Source technology.

    For those interested (and you should be), there's much more literature available by searching.

    It's difficult to conceive how far-reaching and intrustive this legislation is and can be. There must be huge contribution$ and other political lever$ being pushed...

    and Main Street won't notice that a few more rights simply disappeared late one night.

      "For those interested (and you should be), there's much more literature available by searching"..... But you wouldn't be able to... Search engines would be a thing of the past as all information on the internet would be copyright and why would you want access to copyright material?
Re: The SSSCA considered harmful
by kevin_i_orourke (Friar) on Mar 04, 2002 at 09:57 UTC

    It's definitely a topic worth bringing to people's attention but I suspect there may be a slightly more sinister twist.

    How about if the SSSCA and its approved protection methods only applied to content from large media groups, film studios, etc. and nobody else could protect their copyrighted materials?

    This seems to be the case with DVD at the moment, only the big studios can copy protect their DVDs. Home users and independent filmmakers obviously have no need to protect their intellectual property.

    Kevin O'Rourke

Re: The SSSCA considered harmful
by cjf (Parson) on Mar 07, 2002 at 22:07 UTC
    I ran across this story on fox news that doesn't exactly give the SSSCA or Mr. Hollings good coverage. After it mentions him as "The Senator from Disney" it goes on to state he received nearly 300 000$ in contributions from big entertainment in the past election cycle. Good to see this is starting to get mainstream coverage.
Re: The SSSCA considered harmful
by Your Mother (Archbishop) on May 05, 2003 at 06:26 UTC
    I know this is an old thread but I noticed it and wanted to write: This is a good discussion and thank you for posting it. I don't think, however, that email makes a good example.

    I am unfamiliar with case law on the topic but I believe that under US law once something is given to someone without an express contract, or understanding of quid pro quo, it is wholly owned by the recipient.

    This happens with paper mail. If it didn't, I could sue an ex to return all love letters as they were my intellectual property. The ownership transfers. I know that email is probably still up in the air legally but I would argue that if I write an email to you, and we don't have an agreement on its status, I do not hold the copyright on it. You now own the content. If I have a personal letter from Ernest Hemingway, I can publish it in my own book of letters without fear from his estate attorneys.

    So, while an interesting topic and I'd generally agree that the SSSCA sounds like it's riddled with problems, email may not be the best example.

    update: make sure to read tilly's rebuttal. The copyright to the content stays with the author even if the physical letter (or the bits and headers, I s'pose) are owned by the recipient.

      Neither of us are lawyers, but my amateur knowledge suggests that you are mistaken.

      Under US law the author holds copyright on anything that they write unless they don't for contractual reasons - see works for hire. However copyright is a limited form of ownership.

      For instance once you have created and sold a copy, you cannot control the further sales of that copy, or say that certain people cannot own that copy. This is why used bookstores can resell books. (Publishers tried to stop that and failed.) This also covers your ex. However if your ex decided to make copies of your personal letters and send them to friends ridiculing you, then you have a copyright claim against your ex.

      Similarly I would be shocked and astonished if mere possession of the physical article of a letter from Ernest Hemingway gave you any right to publish it in your book of letters. This runs counter to everything that I have ever heard on the topic, and before you consider doing something like that, please discuss it with a lawyer! (One of the notable early copyright cases involved the inclusions of letters from Alexander Pope without his permission.)

      See this guide on copyright, and there is a direct mention of the case of letters in this primer.

      As for the SSSCA, it is now renamed the CBDTPA, and makes half-hearted attempts to address the problems above. What they are coming up with is completely technically unworkable, but now the trick is explaining this to non-technical people who are busy and have no understanding of what the implications of their "small spec change" will be. (Gee, where have we seen this before?) At least they also have realized the potential to create a monopoly position from trying to make it work, and have addressed that. (They also no longer get support from Microsoft for the bill - fancy that.)

        Wow. Thanks for the rebuttal. I stand corrected. Now depressed by the implications. :(

      An optimist! In the government's actions nonetheless. Amazing, I thought they were extinct.

      The point is twofold:

      1. The bill is so vague that it could easily be interpreted in a manner that results in the above situation occuring.
      2. We're stepping onto a slippery slope which leads in this direction.

      In addition, email is something almost everyone can easily relate to. Maybe it's not perfect, but the reality is we're headed to something even more frightening than tilly suggests.

      Props to tilly for trying to raise awareness but I'm not sure individual people coming up with such email campaigns will accomplish much. Perhaps our efforts would be more effective if we focused them through major organizations such as the eff. They've been doing an excellent job speaking out against this bill. Mind you, anything is better than nothing.

Re: The SSSCA considered harmful
by Dunkinn (Initiate) on May 01, 2002 at 17:39 UTC
    Well coming from England I have to say it sounds like the SSSCA is trying to cover too much, with too little rational behind it. What about Photocopiers? They contain loads of chips, but how the hell will that know if it is allowed to copy what you put on the glass?

    From personal experience (UK here remember!) if they were that concerned about people making Mp3's and Divx's then why don't they just do the following:
    Not charge 12.99 ($20) for a single chart cd going up to 19.99 ($30) for a double.
    Not charge 15.99-24.99 ($24-$37.5) for a new DVD release. Release them at similar times to the US.

    The best example I have come across is the Simpsons Box Set Season 1. I can buy an imported R1 copy for 17.99, or get a R2 copy for 39.99. You have to rememeber that the price of the R1 copy of the DVD includes manaufacturing costs, profit margin of hollywood company, profit margin of uk importer company, US taxes, UK taxes, and yet it's still cheaper.
    How can any Hollywood company say that is fair?

    If people feel ripped off you can do whatever you want, but at the end of the day they will just ignore the SSSCA (or a UK equiv) and carry on. I think the companies would be better advised to think about WHY people are copying and how to solve the cause of this and not to block people from copying it. If the SSSCA comes in and is widely ignored are they going to try and take everyone to court? It would be an expensive occupation for them.

    It's just a shame that if this gets passed in the US, it'll be an effective worldwide blanket. Common sense might lose it seems.


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