Prepare to Do Battle Over DRM

Opinion: Another IP bill on the horizon bodes badly for innovation in technology.

I like to read all kinds of books—from fiction to nonfiction—but some of my favorite tomes detail historical accounts of famous battles. I always find it intriguing to read about the brilliant strategies, the colossal blunders and the overall role of luck in determining the outcome of conflicts that shaped future societies.

Going all the way back to Sun Tzu ("The Art of War"), its been shown that the tactics of the battlefield often show up in the everyday world, especially in business.

And, if you think about it, the battle against overreaching anti-piracy legislation really does have the look of a classic war scenario.

The forces of IP protection gain an early sneak-attack victory by getting the DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) passed by Congress literally in the dead of night. The effects of this victory prove devastating for the forces of technology, as the DMCA to this day limits the potential capabilities of products and makes criminals out of security researchers and people who just want to back up data.

Then the forces of technology rally, build up their defenses and turn back attempts (such as the notorious Consumer Broadband and Digital Television Promotion Act from Sen. Fritz Hollings [D-S.C.]) to put all technological innovation and information in the hands of the media empires.

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For the last few years, this struggle has taken on the form of a classic defensive struggle: The forces of the movie and music industries continue to probe the defenses of technology defenders with attack after attack in the form of bad proposed bills from compliant members of Congress.

All the movie and music industry forces need is to find the one time when the defenders of technology are not vigilant or are distracted elsewhere. This will allow the industry side to break the techies defenses and gain a victory through legislation that will make the DMCA seem like a minor irritant.

Which brings us to the latest sally from the forces of IP protection—a draft of a bill called the Intellectual Property Protection Act of 2006, which is currently being circulated in the House of Representatives and could be considered by the House Subcommittee on Courts, the Internet and Intellectual Property by the time you read this column.

Reading the draft of this bill (available here), it doesnt take long to see the potentially devastating effects it could have on technology.

As several security and technology researchers have pointed out since this proposed bill came to light, if this had been law last year, it would have given full levels of protection to Sony in the companys rootkit DRM (digital rights management) debacle. In fact, Sony most likely could have brought criminal (not civil) charges against the researchers and anti-virus vendors that discovered and helped people remove the DRM rootkit (which would have been an illegal circumvention of its IP protection scheme).

If you want to go even further, this bill would allow authorities to seize records from any source in a copyright violation case (such as all of an ISPs or companys network and server logs) and applies the same asset forfeiture laws from the drug wars to equipment suspected of being used in a copyright theft. So, a company could see its systems and servers seized if one of its employees was suspected of downloading movies.

Some people will say that Im jumping the gun here—that this bill is just a proposal and will most likely never see its way out of committee. I hope theyre right.

But the sponsor of this bill is Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), who just happens to be the chairman of the subcommittee that would consider this bill, which means this bill will be given serious consideration by the committee members.

We cant afford to be complacent in this battle. Contact your representatives in the House, especially if they are members of this committee, and let them know what a bad idea this bill is. Because, with the future of technology and innovation at stake, we cant allow this bill to breach our defenses.

p>Labs Director Jim Rapoza can be reached at

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