May 31, 2002

"Broadcast Protection" discussion group flustered by public outcry

Brad Kuhn: Last Thursday, I and FSF's Digital Freedom Organizer (Jonathan Watterson)
had the opportunity to join a Broadcast Protection Discussion Group (BPDG)
conference call. BPDG is discussing the most recent installment in a long
series of technology control measures in the USA; BPDG's recommendation
will follow in the footsteps of DMCA and the CBDTPA (formerly SSSCA, now
S. 2048).

Folks at EFF have been closely tracking BPDG (see FSF joined when it became clear that BPDG
would declare some Free Software packages to be "Covered Products", and
thereby effectively forbidding Free Software to decode High Definition
Television (HDTV) (and perhaps other such) signals.

We chose to remain quiet most of the conference call. The discussions
were mostly dominated by the MPAA representatives. This call was intended
to discuss some narrow and last minute changes to the BPDG proposal, but
in the end, there was some general discussion about the process as a
whole, and that's where we joined in.

It was quite sad that a number of hecklers showed up; disrupting the
process can only serve to justify demand to drive it further underground.
However, it was heartening to us that respectful lurkers from the
community seemed to outnumber the hecklers and the "big players" as well.
At one point during the call, an MPAA executive was going on and on about
how BPDG would decide the "rules" (whatever they may be), and it would
just be "sold" to the public in some way. A community member chimed in
(paraphrased): "The public is already here, listening".

Clearly, the BPDG was not ready for even this small level of public
outcry. BPDG as a whole became flustered when they were forced to deal
with media representatives and members of the public listening in. BPDG
justifies it existence by claiming that all stakeholders were welcome. We
agree with EFF--the public are stakeholders, and we hope everyone will
continue to respectfully dissent and make their concerns known.

The most vocal participants on the conference call were stacked on one
side, and thus we got only one clear chance to make a concise statement as
to BPDG's effect on software freedom. I spoke for the FSF, stating that:

(a) BPDG's recommendation would retroactively declare existing Free
Software as "Covered Products", and

(b) since we cannot, as a matter of ethics, add features to such
Products that "frustrate user modifications", we are at a complete
impasse. BPDG must take seriously the concerns of Free Software.

In response, I was told that "the recommendation would continue on
schedule", but that our "comments would be attached". It is clear to me
that the process remains fundamentally biased; both we and EFF have been
utterly unable to influence the "consensus" in any way. (BTW, when many
callers balked at the idea that the group was at "consensus", an MPAA
executive quipped that "we have general agreement, though, even if it is
not consensus". I don't seem much difference there. No matter what words
they use, those who value freedom won't "generally agree" nor will we join
that "consensus" that mandates our technology have robot guards.)

We did get some good news yesterday; the schedule for comment has been
pushed back, so we will have until early June to gather forces against
this anti-Free Software BPDG recommendation.

However, the road ahead is rocky. We expect the BPDG recommendation to be
referred to the US Senate Commerce Committee as an "alternative" to the
CBDTPA. Perhaps the Senate will introduce the BPDG recommendation as a
bill, touting it as "more palatable to industry" than the CBDTPA. That
would mean we have an even tougher Congressional fight on our hands.
Perhaps BPDG will break down, but that still means we need to fight the
CBDTPA in Congress.

Either way, the future Free Software for audio/video viewing and
production is threatened by these two measures. Meanwhile, the DMCA is
already on the books, leaving a chilling effect on the creation of any
Free Software that can view copy-protected content.

We at FSF are thinking long-term; we plan to stay the course and fight
CBDTPA, the BPDG recommendation, the existing DMCA, and whatever comes
next. For this purpose, we launched the Digital Speech Project
( earlier this year.

Part of our focus will be to continue the fight BPDG as long as it takes.
However, more importantly, we will spend the summer gearing up for a
serious campus-oriented campaign in the fall. This past spring semester,
we helped launch four pilot campus "Digital Freedom" groups. We hope to
launch more. Getting students involved in the anti-DMCA fight is the best
way to build a groundswell of grassroots support to repeal the DMCA.

The Digital Speech Project can really use your support. We've barely
secured enough funding to keep it going for another month or two, and
right now, it's just two people: Jonathan Watterson (full-time) and me
(whenever I can spare cycles from my overflowing queue). We continue to
look for other avenues of support, but I hope that you can take a moment
to make a directed donation to the project (at Alternatively, if you prefer, you
could donate to the EFF; they are doing excellent work on this issue, too.
If you instead have some time to spare, please contact Jonathan at
and get involved as a volunteer.

The fight will be long and hard, but the time to draw the line in the sand
on this issue is now. Please help us continue this fight in whatever way
you can.

Copyright (C) 2002, Free Software Foundation.

Verbatim copying of this entire article is permitted without royalty in
any medium provided this notice is preserved.


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