In 1865, the English Parliament passed the so-called Red Flag Law, requiring that self-propelled vehicles on public highways be limited to a maximum speed of 4 miles per hour and be preceded by a man carrying a red flag. The law remained on the books for 31 years, sapping consumer interest in cars and irreparably stifling English automotive innovation.
Something similar may happen in the United States if lawmakers approve the CBDTPA (Consumer Broadband and Digital Television Promotion Act), recently introduced by Sen. Ernest Hollings, D-S.C. While the stated goal of the CBDTPA—to reduce the piracy of music, movies and other copyrighted digital content—is worthy, it unfairly places responsibility for safeguarding digital content on buyers and manufacturers of every device capable of receiving, storing and displaying digital content, meaning everything from PCs to MP3 players.
The CBDTPA would require digital device manufacturers to embed in their products DRM (digital rights management) technologies that would bar devices from making or using unauthorized copies of digital content bearing protection codes.
Although the bill specifies that the DRM technology required not be "cost prohibitive," the fact is, consumers and enterprises would have to pay more for devices that do less. Like the English of the late 19th century, present-day Americans are likely to reject technology that has been hobbled by laws. This will create a disincentive for vendors to invest in innovative hardware and software products.
Whats more, just as the Clinton administration failed to regulate encryption, any technological attempt to thwart access to digital information will be circumvented.
Digital content providers must recognize that the Internet, combined with new, ubiquitous and inexpensive technologies for creating digital content, has fundamentally altered their industries. They must develop new business models.
In the meantime, we strongly urge vendors and IT professionals to oppose, and legislators to reject, the CBDTPA.