Is the Open Source movement being suckered by the SSSCA?

There are many reasons the proposed SSSCA is an astoundingly bad idea. But would it kill the open source movement? It’s not obvious. In fact, it’s possible we’re being played for fools.

SSSCA is apparently aimed at providing a technological fix to the problem of copyright violation. It’s so easy to reproduce protected digits, however, that the fix requires taking a wrench to the very gonads of computing. This has raised fears that the SSSCA would have the unintended consequence of killing Linux and other open source software. Here are the fears I’ve found.

1. Slashdot:

“This legislation would make:

a) Building your own computer from commodity parts illegal.

b) Building your own OS illegal.

c) Programming your computer/hardware illegal unless: you only use the officially accepted libraries and agree not to even attempt reverse engineering any of them. “

2. Buzzcut:

“By making it a crime to reverse-engineer software to develop compatible open-source products, free software and access to source code may be in dire straits.”

3. Redhat

“Essentially, all devices and software that fall into this vague definition of digital interactive technology will have to include encryption so it can’t be copied. This could include VCR tapes, compact discs, and the devices that run them, as well as computers and open source software.”

Thus the argument goes. The Open Source folks argue against the SSSCA by pointing to deleterious consequences (see the ACM’s letter to Hollings for more consequences) while the entertainment industry says pish-tosh, the bill only aims at stopping the pirating of protected works. The language of the bill is astoundingly vague; according to an article in the The Register by Jack Bryar, Hollings isn’t answering questions as simple as “What’s a digital device?” and I couldn’t find anything on Hollings’ site about the SSSCA. But the bill is vague on purpose: it requires the owners of copyrighted digital content and the manufacturers of digital devices to hammer out a solution within 12 months (with a possible 12 month extension); all ties are broken by the Dept. of Commerce. Thus, the bill can fall back on its Noble Intentions, waving its little hands in denial when someone says that it will make it illegal to send a photo of Aunt Tilly to cousin Mark.

And that’s how we’re being suckered. We get in a lather about consequences the bill does not intend. The government and the Committee of Homeland Stranglehold the SSSCA establishes back off of the ludicrously stupid consequences. We shout and rejoice because we won … and meanwhile every frigging disk drive, CPU and piece of carbon paper gets a SSSCA Copyright Validator lock put in it.

There’s almost no chance that the SSSCA will shut down the Open Source movement in a way that the courts will uphold. Yes, we should be alert. Yes, we should write the letters and sign the petitions. But we should not let the SSSCA through even if it made Linux the 51st state.

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