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Princeton CS Prof Edward W. Felten (Almost) Live 175

Posted by Roblimo
from the living-in-the-shadow-of-the-DMCA dept.
Some legal issues, some technical issues, a little personal insight... This is what Professor Felten gives us here. Some excellent questions rose to the top in this interview, and the answers are similarly thoughtful. Major thanks go out to Professor Felten, also to the many Slashdot people who submitted great questions!

1) From your discussions with them...
by burgburgburg

...do you perceive that legislators are aware of the extraordinarily broad negative implications of these new telecommunications laws that are being proposed/enacted?

Also, if you are aware of it, have the hardware/software manufacturers who will be affected joined together to fight these laws, or has it flown under their radar?

Prof. Felten:

Let me take the second part of the question first. Yes, various manufacturers have opposed the bills. The Consumer Electronics Association, for example, has opposed them. The MPAA has now changed the bills in an attempt to make some of the big manufacturers happier.

As to the first part of the question:

No, I don't think the legislators who support these bills really understand the harm they would do. In my experience, if you can explain to them what the problem is, they will want to do the right thing. (They may not kill a bad bill entirely, but they will at least try to amend it to fix problems.) The hard part is to get their attention, and then to explain the problem in a manner that non-geeks can understand.

The underlying problem, I think, is that geeks think about technology in a different way than non-geeks do. The differences have sunk deeply into the basic worldviews of the two communities, so that their consequences seem to be a matter of common sense to each group. This is why it often looks to each group as if members of the other group are idiots.

Here's an example. Geeks think of networks as being like the Internet: composed of semi-independent interoperating parts, and built in layers. Non-geeks tend to think of networks as being like the old-time telephone monopoly: centrally organized and managed, non-layered, and provided by a single company. It's not that they don't know that the world has changed -- if you ask them what the Internet is like, they'll say that it's decentralized and layered. But the *implications* of those changes haven't sunk deeply into their brains, so they tend not to see problems that are obvious to geeks.

Geeks will look at proposed network regulation and immediately ask "How will this affect interoperability?" or "Is this consistent with the end-to-end principle?" but non-geeks will look at the same proposal and think of different questions. They know what interoperability is, but it's just not at the front of their minds.

2) What sort of positive legislation?
by Viperion

Dr. Felten, do you have a suggestion as to what sort of legislation could be introduced that would soothe the minds of reactionary lawmakers while preserving the rights that we currently enjoy?

Prof. Felten:

Intellectual property policy is in a crisis right now, caused by widespread infringement and the excesses of the legal backlash against it. The biggest problem is hasty legislation that makes the crisis worse by overregulating legitimate behavior without preventing infringement. Obviously, it would be a positive step to repeal some of the bad laws that are already on the books. Part of the problem is a mindset that no matter what the problem is, the solution must be legislative.

But you asked about positive legislative steps, which is a harder question. The holy grail here is a non-harmful proposal that reassures legislators about the continued viability of the music and movie industries.

If you want positive legislation in this area, the best hope is a compulsory license, which would charge all users of the Net a small, mandatory fee. In exchange for this, it would become totally legal to distribute and use any audio and video content on the Net. The revenue from the fees would be split up among the creators according to a formula, based on how many times each work was downloaded or played. If you do the math, the fees can be pretty small while still replacing the revenue the music and movie industries would otherwise lose.

This is a controversial proposal. It does have drawbacks, and I'm not quite endorsing it at this point. But if you want to cut the Gordian knot and end the piracy wars, a compulsory license is one way to do so.

3) Network Identity
by Rick.C

One of the rumored new restrictions is that you may not mask the identity of a network connection. In your opinion, does this refer to the identity of each machine or the identity of the subscriber (who might be responsible for several machines behind a firewall, e.g.)?

In other words, are we talking about "people" or "boxes"?

Prof. Felten:

Some proposed bills would make it a crime to "conceal the place of origin or destination of a communication" from "any communication provider." I'm not sure whether "place" means a geographic location (such as my house) or a network address (such as my IP address) or an identifier (such as a DNS address or email address, either of which might correspond to a person). As far as I know, supporters of these bills haven't said clearly which meaning they intend.

Under any of these three readings, such a ban would cause huge problems. Lots of ordinary security and privacy measures, such as firewalls, VPNs, encrypted tunnels, and various proxies conceal the origin or destination of messages, either to protect privacy or as a side-effect of what they do.

4) Prohibition of what got us here?
by Xesdeeni

Do I completely misunderstand the scope of the DMCA, or would it have actually prohibited the actions of clone manufacturers, starting with Compaq, when they reverse-engineered the IBM PC BIOS in 1984?

It seems this simple fact alone would highlight the ludicrous nature of a law which would prohibit precisely the actions that provided the current state of the industry.

Prof. Felten:

The effect of the DMCA on reverse engineering is complicated. The DMCA does not flatly ban reverse engineering, but if you have to circumvent a technical protection measure in order to do your reverse engineering, then the DMCA will be an issue. The DMCA does have a limited safe harbor for reverse engineering, but it has been widely criticized as too narrow.

I hate to dodge your question, but I'm not really qualified to say whether what the clone makers did would be legal under 2003 law.

5) Signal to Noise
by sterno

One of the problems I see with efforts to try to get the DMCA and similar legislation revoked and prevented in the future, is a matter of signal to noise. Most voters don't care about the DMCA or even know about it, and those who do usually have to worry about more important priorities like the state of the economy or the war in Iraq. So, my question is, how can we possibly make the DMCA and its kin important issues to our legislators? Sure, I can write them, but if they are given the choice of voting for the DMCA and getting some campaign money, or voting against and pleasing a handful of constituents, which will they choose?

It's unlikely that the handful of consitutents is going to vote against the candidate purely because of their DMCA stance. Personally, I'm very against the DMCA but when the election time comes around, I'm not voting for the anti-DMCA candidate, I'm voting for the guy who's going to fix the economy and patch our international relationships. So how can somebody like myself really get their voice heard by the right people when the threat of "voting for the other candidate" isn't credible?

Prof. Felten:

In the short run, I think it's more productive to convince legislators than to threaten them. As you say, there won't be many single-issue DMCA voters.

But even if technological freedom issues like the DMCA aren't the only factor in a voting decision, they still might tip the balance for some voters in some races. Even that is enough to make a difference. Legislators do seem to care what their constituents think, and they do seem to have a fear of doing something that looks stupid afterward.

In the long run, I hope the public comes to see how technological improvement flows from the freedom of technologists to learn and create.

If average voters view censorship of technologists in the same way they view other forms of censorship, we'll be in much better shape.

6) DMCA and EUCD
by Brian Blessed

In your opinion, do residents of Europe and other US-friendly (business-wise) areas have a hope of avoiding being adversely affected by the DMCA (or superDMCA) or its foreign implementations (e.g. EUCD) and is technological civil disobedience the best form of activism to follow?

Prof. Felten:

There is still hope in Europe, but they seem to be heading for the same kind of regulatory regime we see here in the U.S. Parts of the U.S. government have been working hard for years to export the U.S. version of intellectual property law to the rest of the world. All indications are that Europe will follow us down this path.

7) Our position in the world
by TooTechy

Do you see this new legislation altering our ability to work remotely? Will these restrictions place undue hardship on US workers when compared with facilities in other countries? Is it likely that other countries will evolve faster technologically as a result of these draconian measures?

Prof. Felten:

The new regulations on technology will impose a drag on our technological capabilities, and hence on our productivity. If other countries are foolish enough to impose the same regulations on their citizens (and it seems that many will be), then we'll come out even from a competitive standpoint. More importantly, we'll all be worse off than we could have been had we all followed better policies.

8) Strategy
by Meat Blaster

Our current methods of informing the public and the government about the evils of the DMCA seem to be reactive and passive -- defending a lawsuit, writing public responses to the librarian of Congress periodically about the DMCA, setting up resources where the public if they were so inclined could stop by and learn about the problem.

Do you feel that it would be a good time for a shift in strategy towards more active measures such as forming a group to lobby representatives directly, issuing mailings about the DMCA particularly to those whose representatives support legislation like the DMCA/UCITA/SSSCA, or beginning a television ad campaign? Such an endeavor is bound to cost a bit, but I can't help but feel that particularly with 2004 coming up having a bit of organized PR on our side of the debate would be quite helpful.

Prof. Felten:

I agree that positive action is important. I view this as a two-track process.

The first track is the one you suggest, of building up lobbying muscle to challenge harmful regulations. This is challenging, given who is on the other side, and given the tendency of our opponents to buy off important players with special-purpose exceptions to their legal regulations. (For example, the DMCA has special carve-outs for ISPs and device makers.) We're really just starting in this area, but we need to remember how much progress has been made since the passage of the DMCA, which met very little organized resistance at the time.

The second track is to get better at explaining ourselves and at persuading people that they should support our positions. Especially, we need to do a better job of finding folks out there who are our natural allies, and convincing them to join us on these issues, even if we disagree about some other issues.

An example: auto parts manufacturers are worried by recent DMCA developments, such as the case where Lexmark has successfully (so far) used the DMCA against a maker of replacement parts for Lexmark printers. Auto parts manufacturers are worried that the DMCA mindset, which treats unauthorized analysis and interoperation as improper, will leak into their world.

9) Roadblocks to IP protections?
by Xesdeeni

Doesn't the DMCA prohibit a company from investigating a violation of their IP if the violation exists on the other side of encryption?

For example, if company M utilized a software algorithm (putting aside the argument about software patents for the moment) inside an encrypted data stream (audio file, video file, etc.) that was actually patented by company A, wouldn't it be a violation of the DMCA for company A to investigate this violation of their patent rights? And wouldn't any evidence they uncovered in violation of the DMCA be inadmissible if they tried to enforce their patent rights against company M?

Prof. Felten:

This sounds like a likely DMCA violation, but you'll have to consult your lawyer to be sure.

This is just one instance of a more general problem. Laws like the DMCA that limit the flow of information will inevitably make it harder to find out about certain types of misbehavior. Sometimes the misbehavior will be patent infringement. Sometimes it will be a manufacturer misleading their customers about the quality of their product.

We value free speech because vigorous public discussion benefits everybody, though many of those benefits are subtle and indirect. So far, the legal system has not fully realized that speech about technology needs to be valued as highly as speech about other topics. I think the law will eventually catch on, as it becomes clearer to the average person that their experience of the world, and their interaction with the world, is mediated by technology.

10) Tell me...
by Dicky

For the love of God, man, why???

Or to put it slightly less sillily, what was (and is!) your motivation for getting involved in this side of the Computer Science world, say, as opposed to the nice safe, clean theoretical stuff?

Prof. Felten:

I'm not entirely sure myself. Here's the best answer I can manage:

In deciding what to work on, I really just follow my own quirky sense of what is interesting and important. If others find the things I do interesting and important, that's a lucky accident.

But that can't really be the answer to your question, because many of my colleagues follow the same rule, and they end up working on different sorts of things than I do. So I must have a different sense of taste than they do, but I'm not sure why.

The answer doesn't lie in my personal life. When I leave work, I am not at all a rebel or nonconformist. I have a stable, boring, happy suburban life, which I wouldn't change for anything.

I should also point out that I do some work that fits into the traditional academic computer science framework. But you won't read about that on Slashdot.

This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Princeton CS Prof Edward W. Felten (Almost) Live

Comments Filter:
  • by TopShelf (92521) on Thursday April 17, 2003 @11:36AM (#5751709) Homepage Journal
    "I should also point out that I do some work that fits into the traditional academic computer science framework. But you won't read about that on Slashdot. "

    That's too bad, really - I'm sure something like that could squeeze out a couple Evil Bit dupes or the odd M$ bug...

    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 17, 2003 @12:28PM (#5752125)
      You do read about the computer science studies that are "worthy" of headlines here. Remember the whole "Prime is P" thing? That was big. That made it to the headlines.

      Most readers are probably not going to understand (or care to understand) the majority of current CS research. This isn't because Slashdot readers aren't smart enough, it's just simply because a lot of them don't have the background.

      Things like small improvements on the runtime complexity of an obscure clustering algorithm might be important...but they don't necessarily belong on the headlines in your local newspaper.

      If you want news like this, simply join the Association for Computing Machinery or subscribe to some other Computer Science journal.
  • Lobbying Campaign (Score:3, Interesting)

    by rcathcart (658596) on Thursday April 17, 2003 @11:44AM (#5751764)
    Do you feel that it would be a good time for a shift in strategy towards more active measures such as forming a group to lobby representatives directly, issuing mailings about the DMCA particularly to those whose representatives support legislation like the DMCA/UCITA/SSSCA, or beginning a television ad campaign?

    I for one would be willing to donate to such a campaign. If someone set something up on Paypal, I imagine there would be a significant amount of contributions. Maybe not enough for a television ad campaign, but certainly enough to get this issue more attention.

  • Mandatory Licensing (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Canard (594978) on Thursday April 17, 2003 @11:48AM (#5751787)
    If you want positive legislation in this area, the best hope is a compulsory license, which would charge all users of the Net a small, mandatory fee. In exchange for this, it would become totally legal to distribute and use any audio and video content on the Net. The revenue from the fees would be split up among the creators according to a formula, based on how many times each work was downloaded or played. If you do the math, the fees can be pretty small while still replacing the revenue the music and movie industries would otherwise lose.

    Indeed, I've come to believe the same thing. There has to be some (possibly voluntary) way of assessing what kind of content is being copied, and in what quantities in order to assign proportional royalty payments and thereby preserve profit motive among the content creators. But freely copyable data is the only system that really makes sense to me at a societal level. Data ownership just doesn't scale in proportion with data networks and immeasurable value is lost in this way.

    • by gbjbaanb (229885)
      in the UK at least, we pay a additional fee whenever we buy blank cassettes, either music or video, that go to support the music industry from 'illegal' copying onto them.

      Charging ISPs would just be a continuation of this system which I think, no-one has an issue with.
      ISPs can (and do) block filesharing ports so they could even charge only those users using them.

      I agree thugh, that once you've paid this fee, all content should be freely available.
      • in the UK at least, we pay a additional fee whenever we buy blank cassettes, either music or video, that go to support the music industry from 'illegal' copying onto them.

        The US has similar fees as well. Some are mandated by law (like the DAT tax [brouhaha.com]) and others (some of the money you pay for analog media goes to the RIAA and similar organizations, for example) seem to be more of an industry agreement.

        (I've heard about the latter (analog) issue from people in the music industry, but have never actuall

    • by andres32a (448314) on Thursday April 17, 2003 @12:05PM (#5751935) Homepage
      I somewhat agree but...

      If something like this passes, forced licensing won't likely stop with music; mandated contracts for e-books, movies and even software could be next.

      So... the "math" could suddenly get much larger.

      And suddenly you could be paying for the downloading of a whole bunch of music, e-books, movies that you never actually downloaded.

      Just a thought.
      • True enough. We're also already paying such fees on CD-Rs I believe, and blank cassettes etc in the US as well as the UK.
      • And suddenly you could be paying for the downloading of a whole bunch of music, e-books, movies that you never actually downloaded.

        But you now have the legal and moral right to download them--and a reasonable expectation of having reasonable quality copies of said items.

        A nice way to roll this out would be at the ISP level. Each IP assignemnt would be either "good" or "not-good", and the "good" ones could access a new Napsteresque P2P system in exchange for paying a slight ($2/month?) fee. Of course, t
        • by Dexx (34621)
          Rather than just good or not good, an entire scope of ratings could be used. ISP assignment would range from doubleplusungood to doubleplusgood, depending on how well they record and report your downloading habits to the assigning agency.

          • Rather than just good or not good, an entire scope of ratings could be used. ISP assignment would range from doubleplusungood to doubleplusgood, depending on how well they record and report your downloading habits to the assigning agency.


            FINALLY!!! Someone on Slashdot that understands irony, and makes (somewhat) subtle allusions!
            MOD HIM UP!
      • but... but...

        we already have this sort of tax: In canadia and also (I think) in germania there is a tax on all CD-R media that goes directly to the music industry.

        It has always seemed to me a bad idea: since I've already paid the fine, I can commit the crime with a clear conscience.

        • by mouthbeef (35097)
          "we already have this sort of tax: In canadia and also (I think) in germania there is a tax on all CD-R media that goes directly to the music industry."

          This isn't the kind of policy that's being proposed: the Canadian and German levies don't have any compulsory: IOW, paying the levy doesn't get you the right to use copyrighted works.

          The important part here is the *compulsory license* (which allows you to share any song ever recorded) not the *optional levy* (which you only pay if you intend to share songs
          • Of course paying the levy in Canada gives you the right to use copyrighted works. The law changed in 1999 -- personal copying is permitted. It perfectly legal in Canada to DOWNLOAD music. Can't UPLOAD it though... (remember "personal" copying). Still, lots of people upload, so we are PERFECTLY legal. Must burn music onto CD, or tape, it's not legal to leave it on the hard drive...

            Ratboy.
          • Sorry, I was being cute. What I meant was that as soon as you charge for a presumed infraction, you legitimize it. Perhaps not in the eye of the law, but definitely in the eye of the consumer.

            So what is the point of a levy? A bribe to stop the RIAA suing today, without any guarantee about tomorrow? Seems shortsighted. But at least with a levy you can choose to buy CD-Rs or not.

            How is this mandatory license going to work? Do I get to choose between the (non-gratis) RIAA sponsored free (speech) internet wh
      • but what if you could download anything you wanted, and the fee was a 10% 'Tax' on any digital media storage device?
        Not really so bad. My 100 dollar hard drive is not 110 dollers. I think it would be a deal, as long as the people who got funds from it HAD to put their content online.
    • by gpinzone (531794)
      The problem with this system is that it disconnects piracy with this new "tax" on all consumers. For example, the actions of some 15 year old who downloads every mp3 in sight just to be "l33t" causes me to pay more for my Internet conenction.

      Besides, I'd love to hear from the privacy experts how all this reporting is going to go on about what mp3s I like to play and still be 100% anonymous.
      • by mouthbeef (35097)
        We have many compulsory licenses in place that require auditing on these lines (live performance, radio, etc), and none of them are at odds with anonymity.

        It seems like you're thinking that auditing for disbursement would have to be perfect, rather than representative. There are lots of ways imaginable for gathering statistical impressions of the traffic on P2P nets without mandatory loss of privacy:

        * Paid Nielsen families who run spyware on their own HDDs

        * Request monitoring at super-peers

        * Network spi
    • This idea seems to have slippery-slope issues.

      If I design some nice web graphics and you download them an view them as part of visiting my website, do I get a chunk of this tax? You just downloaded and distributed my copyrighted material, right? What if it's Flash instead of graphics? What about the text on my site? That's my copyright.

      What about this post? If you download this page and get this post on your screen, then I want my royalties.
      • If I design some nice web graphics and you download them an view them as part of visiting my website, do I get a chunk of this tax? You just downloaded and distributed my copyrighted material, right? What if it's Flash instead of graphics? What about the text on my site? That's my copyright.

        Last time I checked, no one was advocating compulsories for web graphics: probably because there's no widespread alarm over infringement of web graphics.

        We have a compulsory music license for radio. We don't have a c

    • If we are already tracking how much something is downloaded couldn't we just take it a step farther and charge the appropriate parties. Seriously if I am only listening to band X, Y and Z I only want them to give them my hard earned cash. I don't want to support some band just because a label decided to sign them. Also you have the potential for abuse, just think how crap the music scene is that attracts those with lots of time on their hands who could artificially inflate band z's share of the profits.
    • There are some benefits to mandatory payment schemes. I'd love to see a tiny charge per e-mail. All spam would disappear instantly.

      Instead of doing complicated formulas (ae?) for type of content, another approach would be to collect on a per MB network bandwidth basis. Recipient pays, provider collects. Slashdot would be well funded (as would every site mentioned here). And you wouldn't have the RIAA or MPAA getting a piece of the pie.

      Obviously, everybody would want to be a content provider and would
      • Instead of doing complicated formulas (ae?) for type of content, another approach would be to collect on a per MB network bandwidth basis. Recipient pays, provider collects. Slashdot would be well funded (as would every site mentioned here). And you wouldn't have the RIAA or MPAA getting a piece of the pie. You are now making microsoft even richer than they are (every clueless (l)user is now downloading msn.com every time they open a browser. $$ for M$. Ditto such funds for google. in other words, BLOAT BL
    • I am perfectly happy with the content that I can legally download right now. Why in the world should I have to pay a fee so that the rest of you can get your N-Sync fix?

      The solution to the current intellectual property problem is simple. The copyright holders should target abusers and prosecute the hell out of them. If people are faced with the prospect of being prosecuted for distributing copyrighted works illegally then the current problems will clear themselves up.

      More importantly, prosecuting law

      • Mod parent up! (Score:2, Insightful)

        The parent makes a very good point. Some of us don't give a damn about trading content (currently) illegally. If all I want to do is read rec.games.abstract and post to Slashdot, then I should not have to pay more for my internet access just because some jerkos are downloading music they don't have rights to.
      • I am perfectly happy with the content that I can legally download right now. Why in the world should I have to pay a fee so that the rest of you can get your N-Sync fix?

        The current system, in which companies are trying to protect their digital assets through a combination of legislation such as the DMCA, lawsuits such as the ones posted last week [riaa.org], and copy protection systems that prevent fair use have a net negative impact on society that goes far beyond whether you would personally benefit from being abl

        • Of course I don't want my family thrown in jail for stealing copyrighted material. I don't want them thrown in jail for robbing a bank or stealing cars either. Stealing copyrighted material is just as illegal as these acts, the only reason that you feel differently is that you probably have thousands of dollars worth of stolen MP3s on your hard drive. Your arguments amount to trying justify an action that you know is wrong.

          I am not talking about imprisoning half the planet. I am simply talking about t

      • Your proposal only works if it is easy to find the offender and cheap to prosecute them. The first will become more and more difficult as P2P schemes become more sophisticated. The second will never happen imo. Besides the lawyers fees, court costs, etc., etc., you have to deal with the reprecussions of suing your customer base and the cost of the negative PR that will entail.

        And it will have to be at the core of their customer base. Heck, you've already got a handful of students being sued for billions i

    • I don't believe that's the right solution, but I'd be willing to pay for it.

      At least until the public wakes up. ;)

    • We have that in Canada for writeable CD's. It's a levy so that everytime you buy a CD you have to pay a bit extra (hidden in the cost of course) for the CD. This bit extra (I think it's 23cents per cd, but going up to close to 50cents) is supposed to go to the copyright holders of music, because as we all know, if you are buying a writeable cd you must be stealing music...

      As far as I know as of last Christmas none of the 17Million collected has gone to any copyright holder.

      The reason I don't think this is
    • I can see numerous problems with this:

      1) I don't see it working on the international level. I cannot imagine (say) France paying the record companies in the US, for example.

      2) I don't think a fair solution to dividing the money exists. Any solution based on measurement of downloads or similar will instantly create a small industry around 'download boosting'.

      3) Why should it be limited to music and video's? Why not software, books, patents, etc.?

      4) Would this just be for personal accounts, or also f

      • > 1) I don't see it working on the international level. I cannot
        > imagine (say) France paying the record companies in the US, for
        > example.

        This is a failure of your imagination, then. France *already* does this. Billions of dollars are collected globally (including in France) by various rights societies as part of compulsory licensing schemes, for music companies.

        > 2) I don't think a fair solution to dividing the money exists.
        > Any solution based on measurement of downloads or similar will
    • It's sad to see civil libertarians like Felten and the EFF jumping on the mandatory licensing bandwagon. Few policies could be as unfair, misguided and unimplementable.

      Mandatory licensing is unfair because people are forced to pay a fee even if they don't take advantage of what they are paying for. Everyone would be paying for music and movies and whatever other content people start pirating, even if they don't partake of those sources of entertainment.

      (This is assuming that everyone is charged this "co
    • This is the worst idea I've heard on the subject. Socializing the movie and music industry will not help artists or the labels. If the govt. starts taxing internet users, who decides how the money is divided? The govt. certainly should NOT be involved in this. If this happens, how much money your company makes will be based on how well you lobby congress instead of how many people actually like the artists you're promoting. It's a terrible socialist idea that is also unfair to users. Users now have to pay t
    • It's really the whole Toll Road dilemma.

      Is it better to take every driver on a road, and extract fifty cents for their share of building and maintaining the road?

      Or is it better to simply make everybody pay for the road through a general tax?

      In the first case, you add the overhead of all those toll collection and enforcement employees, the overhead incurred to the users having to wait in long lines to pay, which increases the congestion, and reduces the overall efficiency of the road as a traffic conduit
      • I hate to reply to my own post, but I just thought of an additional argument in support of "socializing" IP consumption;

        IP itself is a natural public resource, a monopoly access to the market, granted to the copyright/patent owner BY the government. And therefore, is actually a public resource established for private gain (presumably in exchange for eventual disbursement to the public domain).
        In this way - funding public IP access via a general tax is really a no-brainer.

        We just have to figure out how so
  • by velo_mike (666386) on Thursday April 17, 2003 @11:49AM (#5751799)
    "No, I don't think the legislators who support these bills really understand the harm they would do. In my experience, if you can explain to them what the problem is, they will want to do the right thing." ... "The hard part is to get their attention, and then to explain the problem in a manner that non-geeks can understand" Isn't the hard part convincing them to vote against the PACs who funded their campaigns and in favor of the individuals they're supposed to represent? Beyond that, so many laws are passed as riders or ammendments to unrelated bills. Several politicians have stated "I didn't know I voted for X". Shouldn't we expect our legislators to Read The F***ing Bill before voting?
    • The politicians couldn't tack riders onto bills either a) completely unrelated to the bill itself, and b) designed to submarine a bill by being completely ludicrous?

      Oh well, that's democracy for ya.
      • by elmegil (12001) on Thursday April 17, 2003 @12:08PM (#5751955) Homepage Journal
        I think along with lobbying for repeal of DMCA et. al. we ought to be lobbying for "truth in legislation" laws that force every given piece of legislation to be single topic. It can allow for broad topics with complex subparts, but every subpart must have language demonstrating its connection to the main topic (I spose that gives a loophole of sorts, but let's see). For those who'd argue that this removes a means of "getting things done" I have to say, too bad. If you can't get things done with clear, honest legislation, then you shouldn't be doing them, eh?
      • IIRC, that was the point of the "Line Item Veto" dispute many years ago. Instead of your clean and simple solution, they prefer to obfuscate the matter even more...
        • Unfortunately line-item veto was found unconstitutional. Presidents of both parties lobbied for it, and finally the Republicans passed it in 1995's "Contract with America," but the Supreme Court ruled that it violated the separation of powers. So this issue is dead unless someone makes a constitutional amendment happen, which is very unlikely at this point.
        • I have always been of the opinion that this kind of backdoor legislation is the bane of democracy. Imagine that congress finally composes a popular and seemingly bulletproof bill to "protect the children" or whatever. Now say that Senator Ima Porklover (R - Nebraska) says to his buddies "Hey, remember how I scratched your backs on that other bill a few months ago? How about we tack on this here amendment to build one of them supercollider thingies in my state." Now the bill goes before the president and for

      • The politicians couldn't tack riders onto bills either a) completely unrelated to the bill itself, and b) designed to submarine a bill by being completely ludicrous?

        This could be accomplished by having representatives use an ordinal voting system such as Condorcet [electionmethods.org] to vote on bills.

        The bill with pork could be on the ballot right next to the bill without pork, and representatives would be able to pass the bill whether or not they felt the pork was worthwhile.

        This would obviously require a constitutional

      • Case in point (Score:3, Informative)

        by sulli (195030)
        the so-called "Amber Alert" bill, which was initially intended to provide a national alert system for missing children (ooh, tug at those heartstrings!) yet is larded up with all sorts of crapola [aclu.org] that would never have passed otherwise, including mandatory minimum sentencing, expanded wiretaps, and Joe Biden's "RAVE Act" that would make it a felony to hold dances with electronic music if someone gets high there. Ri-fucking-diculous. (Good discussion [plastic.com] over at plastic.)
    • Gee! You've ruined my whole day...

      How can you be so pessimistic about our great democracy, the greatest democracy in the whole wide world?

  • by gbjbaanb (229885) on Thursday April 17, 2003 @11:50AM (#5751807)
    for filesharing - my ISP has 2 offerings for ADSL - a cheaper version where filesharing and other ports are blocked, and a more expensive version (10% more) that has various other services and filesharing enabled.

    So.. in effect, I am already paying a fee to share files. I have no problem with this - in the UK at least, some ISPs are putting limits on bandwidth usage to stop people sucking up everything they can see continuously, my ISPs way of reducing bandwidth usage is to make us pay slightly more for a better service (or slightly less for the basic service). I should point out that the basic service is cheaper than nearly all the other UK ISPs.

    Charging a small fee to the ISPs who allow filesharing would just see the services my ISP offers being offered by other ISPs. No doubt some people will still complain about having to pay an extra $2 a month...

    my ISP - PlusNet [plus.net]

    • by mouthbeef (35097) <doctorow@craphound.com> on Thursday April 17, 2003 @12:10PM (#5751966) Homepage
      What's more, there are a bunch of hidden costs that would be offset by an ISP levy that legalized filesharing:

      * Legal compliance: ISPs are drowning in automated takedown/disclosure/termination notices from the recording industry to stop file-sharers. These aren't cheap to deal with and they're REALLY not cheap to litigate (check out the $millions that Verizon is spending to keep from having to disclose private customer info to rights-holders)

      * Bandwidth: The primary design consideration in P2P design today is legal-attack-resistance. This makes superpeer, swarmloading and optimistic cacheing strategies very hard to implement. If P2P were legal, P2P developers could build tools that minimize the amount of non-local bandwidth used through optimistic cacheing and preferring downloads from nearby hosts on the same ISP's network. Given that bandwidth cost is the reason most often cited for ISP opposition to P2P, this should make a compulsory *very* attractive to ISPs.

      There's a lot of worry about freeriders in such a system: "I don't download music, why should I pay for it," but your ISP is already *full* of freeriders. I have Earthlink DSL, but I manage my own mail on a server in a cage, and my own web-server on another server in another cage. Yet I still "pay" for these services. In some sense, I am subsidizing the activities of everyone with an @earthlink.net email address. But the cost of rebating my $0.50/month is more than $0.50/month: IOW, ditching the freeriders makes the service more expensive, not cheaper.

      And FWIW, since I travel a lot, I use my "free" 20h of Earthlink dial-up nearly every month. Which means that I'm a freerider on Earthlink's dialup service, subsidized by DSL customers who never dial Earthlink from a hotel-room.

      Let ISPs who don't want to offer file-sharing opt out of the levy. I could get DSL from another ISP, like RawBandwidth, which won't offer me POP or SMTP, but it's no cheaper than Earthlink's national DSL.

  • by elmegil (12001) on Thursday April 17, 2003 @11:59AM (#5751884) Homepage Journal
    If average voters view censorship of technologists in the same way they view other forms of censorship, we'll be in much better shape.

    Given the prevalence of the "if you don't support the war you should shut up and stop supporting terrorism", I'm not sure I agree that the average voter really cares one whit about any censorship that doesn't directly and immediately impact them.

    • "Given the prevalence of the 'if you don't support the war you should shut up and stop supporting terrorism'," Since that's all that has come out of our fearless leader's mouth in the last 2 years, I'm not surprised that line gets spouted so much. Even two of my otherwise "rational" friends have picked up on it and now sound like CNN/MSNBC drones.
  • OK... So Now What! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by spiedrazer (555388) on Thursday April 17, 2003 @12:00PM (#5751888) Homepage
    A great interview with an obviously insightful man.

    The question concerning positive, pro-active action in support of sane technology regulation leaves me wondering how a bandwagon like that can get rolling. Is the EFF the obvious conduit for that type of activity. Do we need a concerted PR compagn to raise additional $ for the EFF with the specific intent that the EFF use it to start a PR arm that operates with 'traditional' political insider methods.

    I swear the lawmakers can't all be morons (as we know) but someone needs to educate those who have decided to stay passive on these issues, and relying on the few enlightened lawmakers who have about a thousand other things do do probably won't get it done!

    What's the next step???

    • by Anonymous Coward
      What's the next step???

      Mass-suicide. But in a peaceful way. Don't take anyone else out, just ourselves. I'll get things rolling...
  • by richg74 (650636) on Thursday April 17, 2003 @12:12PM (#5751980) Homepage
    The hard part is to get their attention, and then to explain the problem in a manner that non-geeks can understand.

    I think Prof. Felten is right about this one. I'm reminded of an example from personal experience; it's not related to the DMCA, but is analogous, I think.

    I've discussed the issue of privacy in a networked world with my Dad a few times. His initial reaction was along the lines of, "I'm not worried about it, I don't have anything to hide."

    I took a bit of time one evening, and searched for and printed all the information about him that I could find on the net: residence, phone numbers, driving record, credit report, ... (I did not use any privileged access to get this stuff.) When I handed him the pile of paper, he was flabbergasted -- but I think he gets it now.

    Non-geeks are just not used to thinking about these issues in the new context.

  • by gpinzone (531794) on Thursday April 17, 2003 @12:12PM (#5751981) Homepage Journal
    This sounds like a likely DMCA violation, but you'll have to consult your lawyer to be sure.

    I thought he was a lawyer?

    The real answer is that not even your lawyer can give you a straight answer. The only way you'll ever find out is if the event actually occurs, parties sue, they don't settle out of court, and the rulings keep getting appealed until it gets to the Supreme Court.

    I've had a couple years experience with new technology and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance. While the ADA representatives in Washington would deny vehemently that the law was unclear, the only way you'd really know if you were in violation was if you (or someone else in the same position) were sued and lost.
  • by GeekWithGuns (466361) on Thursday April 17, 2003 @12:13PM (#5751988) Homepage

    The effect of the DMCA on reverse engineering is complicated. The DMCA does not flatly ban reverse engineering, but if you have to circumvent a technical protection measure in order to do your reverse engineering, then the DMCA will be an issue. The DMCA does have a limited safe harbor for reverse engineering, but it has been widely criticized as too narrow.

    I hate to dodge your question, but I'm not really qualified to say whether what the clone makers did would be legal under 2003 law.

    As to weather or not the DMCA would have been broken by reverse engineering the BIOS is still not know, but I'm sure that had it back then, some IBM laywer would have added to the the lawsuit as a bit more leverage.

    One of the worst things about the DMCA is it's chilling effects. People are not doing things that are totally legal for fear of the law. For example, including a DVD player that uses the DeCSS code in a Linux distro because they might get sued under the DMCA. Now they would probabily would win, but not after loosing Billions of dollars in a drawn out court battle. That part of the law just makes me sick.

    • Something to remember about reverse engineering the IBM PC BIOS. When IBM created the BIOS they made all information about it available to the public. Including all instructions, the API, everything.

      They did this because they were at the time working in response to an anti-competitive lawsuit against them.

      One of the side benifits of doing this was that they believed they could earn licence fees from companies that tried to sell clones of the PC, because they could point at the publically available informa
  • by Anixamander (448308) on Thursday April 17, 2003 @12:32PM (#5752154) Journal
    I hate to dodge your question, but I'm not really qualified to say whether what the clone makers did would be legal under 2003 law.

    I guess he's new here. Since when did not being qualified to answer a question stop a slashdotter?
  • by Dunedain (16942) on Thursday April 17, 2003 @12:36PM (#5752207) Homepage
    I can't bring myself to agree with Felten's compulsory licensing arguments from two directions.
    First, as a producer of content: there's some content I want to give away for free. I don't want any recompense for documentation I write, or for some software. I just want it out there getting used. Other stuff I want much stricter protections on -- some of my security-related work, for example. Compulsory licensing schemes I've seen proposed prevent me from doing either of these. In addition, they typically compel a license for distribution, but not for modification. In the case of CDDA files, which must be modified (into MP3s) to be useful, this is useuless.

    That ties into the second problem: advocating a compulsory licensing regime without closly tying that advocacy to an inverse DMCA is very dangerous. Imagine a compulsory licensing world where Palladium and TPM-backed digital restrictions management prevent you from copying or modifying the files you acquire. In order for compulsory licensing to be even worth considering, it has to be tied to a ban on opaque formats and on technical measures to prevent modification and distribution.
  • My Room mate... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Greyfox (87712) on Thursday April 17, 2003 @12:38PM (#5752228) Homepage Journal
    My room mate is a non-geek internet user. She doesn't know what the DMCA is. Her eyes glaze over when I try to explain it to her.

    She does understand, and becomes quite annoyed when I explain to her in the future she won't be able to rip her CDs to MP3 format or download missed episodes of her favorite television show off the internet. The average user does not understand technical details, but they do understand consequences and inconvenience. Don't forget that when explaining a problem to the people, you have to start where the people are at.

  • by debrain (29228) on Thursday April 17, 2003 @12:41PM (#5752248) Journal
    The revenue from the fees would be split up among the creators according to a formula, based on how many times each work was downloaded or played. If you do the math, the fees can be pretty small while still replacing the revenue the music and movie industries would otherwise lose.

    This is a dangerous assumption, and I have lobbied against the instantiation of such a system as being too easily abused, ignoring independent artists, and lacks adequate measurements.

    Let's start with the 3rd point, that it is too hard to measure. In the Napster universe, this might have been possible, but in a truly peer-to-peer universe like Kazaa, there is no way to adequately measure the downloads. And even if there were, there is no way to associate a download with the semantically acquisition worthy of remuneration; if I download something I already own, rather than burn it again, does that indicate demand? Worse, it is possible to spoof acquisition to boost perceived demand through which remuneration is measured; record companies would just set up Vanatu companies and download copyrights of vested interests.

    We have two problems: how to measure downloads that are valid and worth remuneration, and how to not measure downloads that are not valid and worth remuneration. I have proven, I think, in the mathematical sense (I am a mathematician), that these problems cannot be solved in peer to peer like Gnutella; that no application of encryption, authentication and verification can guarantee valid measurements, while still retaining the policies of open peer to peer (ie. no centralization). The question then becomes: If one restricts peer to peer to closed or centralized models that cost money, why would people not just use free open peer-to-peer? It is a question, then, of incentive to use my bandwidth to facilitate a distributed commercial download model, which undermines (mostly) the ability to uniquely distribute end-point secure copyrighted materials; one inherently has the ability to redistribute. Content industries want to control the content, but to implement peer to peer, with download accounting, they must facilitate the one control they most wish to restrict: copying. It seems like flying in the face of a dragon.

    The ignoring of independent artists and abuse of the system tie together in that conglomerates can monopolize the remuneration much like they monopolize radio, as a result of the spoofing mentioned above. This happens now, in Canada, as the CPCC (Canadian Private Copying Collective) bases remuneration to the copyright industry from a levy on CD's, tapes, etc., based on radio play time. But radio play time is a function of multinational conglomerates such as ClearChannel, which in turn prohibits independent artists inasmuch as it artificially promotes artists of vested interest.

    Great QA, btw.

  • by Ogerman (136333) on Thursday April 17, 2003 @12:47PM (#5752294)
    But you asked about positive legislative steps, which is a harder question. The holy grail here is a non-harmful proposal that reassures legislators about the continued viability of the music and movie industries.

    The assumption that the existing music and movie industries NEED to be viable any longer is the biggest mistake of all. Until this assumption is torn down, we'll continue see all sorts of garbage legislation to try to prop up failing businesses. Let capitalism run it's course for crying out loud! The music industry (read: RIAA members) is already dying due to independent artists, lack of big name album successes, and the general public's unwillingness to pay for old music that ought to be public domain by now. Hollywood may not be too far behind considering how many independent films have recently enjoyed smash successes. Compare also, the proprietary software industry is headed for total collapse due to the Open Source movement. Microsoft is already going down in flames, looking at its stock, the continual bad PR, industry alliances forming against it. (IBM/HP/etc.) Face it, society is striving to become more open! I know it's an overused analogy, but we're seeing the "printing press" revolution all over again.

    If you want positive legislation in this area, the best hope is a compulsory license, which would charge all users of the Net a small, mandatory fee.

    So basically, the aging big-shot players get to impose a tax on everyone using the internet to prop up failing businesses since their customers have already left for greener pastures. And regardless of whether I partake in the crappy content, I still have to pay. This type of system is straight out socialism. Great idea, Felten. Not.
    • The assumption that the existing music and movie industries NEED to be viable any longer is the biggest mistake of all.

      Well, they need to be unless you want the economy of California (and probably the rest of the country) to crumble.

      In some idealistic Libertarian fantasy land, maybe having established corporations that employ hundreds of thousands of people (and a few million indirectly) crumble makes sense. But in this REAL WORLD(TM), there is no way in hell that any elected official is going to vote aga

      • Well, they need to be unless you want the economy of California (and probably the rest of the country) to crumble. In some idealistic Libertarian fantasy land, maybe having established corporations that employ hundreds of thousands of people (and a few million indirectly) crumble makes sense. But in this REAL WORLD(TM), there is no way in hell that any elected official is going to vote against some measure of protection for this industry.

        So basically, what you're implying is that "big media / software" i
  • Prof. Felton says:

    " Laws like the DMCA that limit the flow of information will inevitably make it harder to find out about certain types of misbehavior."

    Maybe we should bring this to the attention of the Dep. of Homeland Security. If they don't like things like strong encryption, how could they possibly want to make it illegal to break even weak encryption. Or is there an excemption for law enforcement with regard to circumvention.

    In any case, it would be a fun battle. The MPAA and RIAA vs. Homeland Secu
    • Paranoid Rant (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Tony (765)
      If they don't like things like strong encryption, how could they possibly want to make it illegal to break even weak encryption.

      <rant mode="paranoia">

      Y'ever think this is exactly where they want us? If it's illegal to attack weak encryption, or even publish flaws in the encryption we use, then They can decrypt it illicitly, but we can't.

      And since we can't really even work together to create a better encryption, we'll always have sucky and weak encryption which They will always be able to intercep
  • Consider these quotes:

    I'm not sure whether "place" means a geographic location (such as my house) or a network address (such as my IP address) or an identifier (such as a DNS address or email address, either of which might correspond to a person).

    The effect of the DMCA on reverse engineering is complicated. ... I hate to dodge your question, but I'm not really qualified to say whether what the clone makers did would be legal under 2003 law.

    An example: auto parts manufacturers are worried by recent D

  • Natural allies (Score:4, Insightful)

    by jdavidb (449077) on Thursday April 17, 2003 @01:27PM (#5752631) Homepage Journal

    The second track is to get better at explaining ourselves and at persuading people that they should support our positions. Especially, we need to do a better job of finding folks out there who are our natural allies, and convincing them to join us on these issues, even if we disagree about some other issues.

    I am a conservative, a libertarian, and a laissez-faire capitalist. I believe in minimizing government control. As such, the DMCA is clearly something I must stand against on principled as well as practical grounds. I am your natural ally.

    Sure, we disagree on some things. But is it worth it to let those stand between us when it comes to opposing the DMCA? Is it worth it to drive off people like me by alienating them on slashdot? I really do believe the principle of least government control is what you want ... and you will find that in conservatism and libertarianism. And even if we never agree on that principle, we agree on many, many of the specific issues (intellectual property laws, DMCA, internet regulation, free speech)

    Court conservatives. Make them see that draconian laws like this just build up big government. Court libertarians. Make them see that intellectual property laws abuse state power to impose an artificial and damaging scarcity. Minds are changing, one at a time.

    • Court conservatives. Make them see that draconian laws like this just build up big government.

      I'd like to see this work out, I really would. Now, maybe I'm just being pessimistic, but it seems to me that the largest conservative political party in the US (the GOP) are taking traditionally conservative values and throwing them out the window in favor of the Neoconservative agenda. It's going to be hard to court the right wing of politics in this country when the "less government" creed of conservatism
  • Do I completely misunderstand the scope of the DMCA, or would it have actually prohibited the actions of clone manufacturers, starting with Compaq, when they reverse-engineered the IBM PC BIOS in 1984?

    One interesting thing about the PC clones that both the author of the question and Prof. Felten miss is that IBM used the protection offered by copyright law to publish the entire source code of the original PC, XT, and AT BIOS and the full circuit schematics of the motherboards. Anyone could buy these techn

    • From the DMCA [eff.org]:

      REVERSE ENGINEERING... a person who has lawfully obtained the right to use a copy of a computer program may circumvent a technological measure that effectively controls access to a particular portion of that program for the sole purpose of identifying and analyzing those elements of the program that are necessary to achieve interoperability of an independently created computer program with other programs...

      It seems pretty clear that reverse engineering the BIOS for interoperability would h

      • My point in the comment you reply to was that if IBM published the source code and electrical schematics, there were no "technological measures" to control access to any of the software or hardware.

        As you note, there were no technological measures in place, so the DMCA was irrelevant.

        The point to reverse-engineering the BIOS is rather as though I wanted to publish a clone of a Stephen King novel. I could buy the novel and photocopy it, but that would violate copyright law.

        An analogy might be that reve

  • Do you feel that it would be a good time for a shift in strategy towards more active measures such as forming a group to lobby representatives directly

    What ever happened to the idea of the GeekPAC group (political action committee)? It would deal with intellectual property and communications issues, H-1B visas, etc.

    Someone suggested that it could use techniques perfected by the NRA; namely randomly targeting a legistlator (perhaps one in a close race) who supported an anti-Geek law and buy radio and si
  • by cornice (9801) on Thursday April 17, 2003 @04:12PM (#5754093)
    The DMCA is so broken that it _is_ very possible to use it against itself. The concept that information wants to be free fits much better with the framework of the US legal and legislative systems than the DMCA. I think it would be an interesting exercise to dream up as many examples like question #9 as possible. In other words dream up a DMCA violation and then dream up a DMCA method for hiding or protecting the original violation. I bet some awesome examples exist. I bet that this might be the best way to demonstrate how broken the DMCA really is. I suppose Freenet is an example. What would it take from a legal standpoint to prevent the cracking of Freenet under the DMCA? What part of the law takes presidence in these cases?
    • Better yet, can the DMCA be used against the Patriot Act?
    • The DMCA is so broken that it _is_ very possible to use it against itself.

      I've been saying this for the longest time. What most people don't understand or care to understand about copyright is that they can be a copyright holder as much as big, faceless corporations. Any laws they use against you can be used against them. That's why I thought it was hilarious when I heard that they were going to make some hacking legal if it involved protecting your copyright.

      In other words dream up a DMCA viol

  • "I hate to dodge your question, but I'm not really qualified to say whether what the clone makers did would be legal under 2003 law."

    A wise man is one who is not afraid to say "I don't know". I'm glad he respected us enough to say that instead of trying to BS us.
  • Compulsory license (Score:3, Insightful)

    by debest (471937) on Thursday April 17, 2003 @10:13PM (#5756547)
    I'm glad to see that, despite starting to lean in this direction just to end this stalemate, that Prof. Felton is still not firmly in the compulsory license camp.

    I have three big problems with it:

    1) Unfairness in the collection - How will they possibly be able to determine a fair method of determining which bits you download are restricted from distribution by copyright, and which ones aren't? You know damned well that this will just end up being a $/mb tax that will be charged to the ISP, who will have to pass this charge on to all consumers. Workers just doing business over an encryted tunnel all day (working on no content that applies to the piracy debate) will be charged far more than the occasional Kazaa user, who is actually doing the illegal/unethical (pick your adjective) act.

    2) Unfairness in the Distribution - There will never be a just method of distribution of these funds. Obviously, the MPAA/RIAA will be first in line at the trough. With them most assuredly getting the lion's share of the payments from this tax (with no reliable data to prove what percentage of their content was distributed), they will be in all the better position to put the squeeze on distributors not in their organizations (ie. the Indies). Such as regime would take away an Indie's ability to find a way to profitably distribute their content online, and receive only crumbs from the tax grab.

    3) The bad precident - Once this is set up and enacted into law, how difficult do you think it would be to increase the tax rate up a few notches? Or to add more beneficiaries (think software companies, book publishers, magazine publishers, etc.) to the line-up with their hands out for free money? It will not be very long before the idea of the Internet to be used as a decentralized method of sharing information from one computer to another will be just too expensive to use in this fashion.

    If you need a good idea on how bad it can be already for this kind of idea, look up information on Canada'a experience with taxing CD-Rs. Currently, there is debate over an amendment to increase this tax, and levying new taxes on removable hard drives and flash memory. As an example, the Creative Nomad player will more than double in price, and Creative has said that it will pull the product if this passes. All the while, not a penny of the money that has already been collected (millions of dollars) has been distributed because of arguments over the formulas.

"Text processing has made it possible to right-justify any idea, even one which cannot be justified on any other grounds." -- J. Finnegan, USC.

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