October 23, 2001

Tech groups oppose SSSCA, hearings canceled

Author: JT Smith

- By Dan Berkes -
A scheduled Thursday hearing for the Security Systems Standards and
Certification Act (SSSCA) has been canceled. Staffers in the office of
the bill's sponsor, Sen. Ernest "Fritz" Hollings cited the continuing anthrax scare on Capitol Hill as reason for the cancellation. That same day, the PC industry came out swinging against his proposed legislation.According to accounts of Monday's press briefing, PC industry executives from the Business Software Alliance, Microsoft, Intel, and other major American computer companies said that they believe the Hollywood-backed SSSCA would not solve piracy concerns, but in fact stifle technological innovation.

"We couldn't feel more strongly that the protection of intellectual property and software and all digital content is an extremely important effort," said Business Software Alliance president Robert Holleyman. However, "we differ from some companies who wish to promote a federally legislated and mandated technology standard."

The SSSCA is legislation proposed by Hollings, a South Carolina Democrat, and backed by a Who's Who of entertainment industry conglomerates including the Walt Disney Co., News Corp., and AOL Time Warner. The proposed legislation would mandate all "interactive digital devices" prevent users from making copies of any multimedia or other content.

The bill is of particular concern to Open Source advocates, who fear the copy protection standards would effectively outlaw Linux and a great deal of associated software.

The SSSCA's author was under the impression that the U.S. computer and entertainment industries would work side-by-side to create their own copy protection standards. This is referenced in section 104 of the bill, granting both sides almost two years time to come up with a working standard. After Monday's PC industry briefing, it would seem that goal is somewhat unlikely.

"[SSSCA] would be an unwarranted intrusion in the marketplace and would result in a standard that would be rejected by the marketplace," said Ken Kay, the executive director of the Computer Systems Policy Project (CSPP).

There is a contingency plan hardwired into the bill that would force a shotgun wedding of cooperation between technology and entertainment companies. Should the two sides fail to agree on a standard after two years, the U.S. Department of Commerce would be free to set its own standards for copy protection.

Representatives from Compaq, Intel, IBM, and Microsoft were also on hand to showcase the industry's voluntary technological copy protection efforts. CSPP's Kay also criticized Hollywood's support of the SSSCA: "It is ironic to me that the MPAA is out promoting this approach when it has been the biggest proponent of industry led solutions," referring to the voluntary content rating systems in place for movies and television.

A press representative for Hollings said the hearings scheduled for Thursday have been canceled because of the anthrax scare. Senate buildings remained closed today while bioterrorism experts sweep offices for additional evidence of the virus; Hollings staffers were not available today to discuss if or when SSSCA hearings would take place.

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