FC: CBDTPA bans everything from two-line BASIC programs to PCs

From: Declan McCullagh (declanat_private)
Date: Mon Mar 25 2002 - 20:00:02 PST

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    Just in case folks haven't figured out how sweeping the Hollings-Feinstein 
    bill, aka CBDTPA is, well, keep reading.
    The CBDTPA says that if I were to write and sell this BASIC program...
    10 INPUT A$
    20 PRINT A$
    ...after the regulations take effect, I would be guilty of a federal 
    felony. That's up to five years in prison and up to a $500,000 fine. 
    Distributing my two-line application without charging for it, either via 
    handing out floppies or by posting it on a website would be at least a 
    civil offense and, depending on the circumstances, a crime as well.
    It's no joke. CBDTPA regulates "any hardware or software that reproduces 
    copyrighted works in digital form." My program above does that, especially 
    if my BASIC interpreter permits arbitrarily long strings.
    The business end of the CBDTPA says that "a manufacturer, importer, or 
    seller" of such software cannot "sell, or offer for sale, in interstate 
    commerce, or cause to be transported in, or in a manner affecting, 
    interstate commerce" their code unless it "includes and utilizes standard 
    security technologies that adhere to the security system standards adopted 
    under section 3."
    The FCC gets to invent those. But I can't see how my two-line program is 
    going to incorporate such standards. If I'm using C, must I "#include 
    <sys/copycheck.h>?" In Perl, will I "use Parse::DRMVerify?" If so, who at 
    the FCC will ensure that these modules are available for the languages I'm 
    using? (It is true that folks at the FCC are smarter than the folks in 
    Congress, though that is not saying much. FCC staff will try to make the 
    standards workable. But the CBDTPA gives them -- and the public -- precious 
    little wiggle room.)
    By design, programming languages are terribly flexible. The only way to 
    prevent software from removing do-not-copy bits from digital content would 
    be for Congress to ban the programmable PC. And replace it, perhaps, with 
    WebTV television-top boxes.
    In case you're curious, the felony penalties kick in when you try to sell 
    your post-ban BASIC program -- not to mention any commercial software -- 
    and perhaps even if you're a free software developer hoping to gain 
    reputation capital from your code.
    They say that violators "shall be fined not more than $500,000 or 
    imprisoned for not more than 5 years, or both, for the first offense; and 
    shall be fined not more than $1,000,000 or imprisoned for not more than 10 
    years, or both, for any subsequent offense." 
    Yes, this is silly. No, it is probably (I hope) not what senators Hollings 
    and Feinstein and their colleagues intended. Yet it is what the text of the 
    bill says. And this is after the good senators had seven months of 
    correspodnence from computer scientists and industry representatives 
    worried about the scope of the legislation after it was widely circulated 
    in August 2001.
    Don't believe me? Read it for yourself:
    Text of CBDTPA:
    Politech archive on the CBDTPA:
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