Senator Hollings Sponsors New Copyright Bill

By Richard Menta- 9/10/01

It has only been about a month. That's when a bipartisan bill introduced in the House of Representatives by Chris Cannon, R-Utah, and Rick Boucher D-Va was introduced to free up the air surrounding the online music industry. The Music Online Competition Act (MOCA) would update copyright law, making it easier for online services to conduct business without being sued and strengthen fair use definitions to clarify and extend the rights of consumers when they buy a CD or movie

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You knew that such a bill would not go uncontested by the entertainment industry.

Sponsored by powerful chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, Fritz Hollings D-S.C., a new bill seeks to do the opposite and severely tighten the control the record and film industries have on the product they distribute to consumers. To achieve this, the bill would force all consumer electronic devices including e-books, DVDs, computers and cell phones to embed copy-protection technology.

The Security Systems Standards and Certification Act (SSSCA) makes it a crime to create or sell any kind of computer equipment or electronic device that "does not include and utilize certified security technologies". The bill also limits consumers' fair-use rights and proposes new penalties for simply distributing copyrighted material without the new security protocols.

The penalty if convicted would be : " not more than $500,000 or imprisoned for not more than 5 years, or both, for the first offense; and (2) shall be fined not more than $1,000,000 or imprisoned for not more than 10 years, or both, for any subsequent offense."

The bill does limit who could be prosecuted should it become law; "Only someone who violates the law willfully and for purposes of commercial advantage or private financial gain can be convicted". That seems to let Napster clone users off the hook as long as no money is exchanged, but definitely hits those who sell MP3-laden CDs on eBay. Of course hardware enabled devices would not legally be able to play any of this content in the first place, which is where the bill gets its effectiveness.

Webnoize has already declared the bill draconian and doubts it would pass in its current form.Once passed, it would also take time to develop and adopt a security protocol, a chore that has so far eluded the fading Secure Digital Music Initiative (SDMI). Still, a revise of the controversial 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) is all but inevitable. Remember too that the bill doesn't even have to pass to be successful as one of its main main goals is to stonewall the liberal Cannon/Boucher MOCA bill.

What stands out most of all is that, as-is, Hollings bill would kill the MP3 device market like similar laws killed Digital Audio Tape (DAT) back in the 80's. MP3 is seen as the successor to the aging cassette technology and the push is on by the electronics giants to capture a piece of the burgeoning market. RCA alone will release 20 MP3 devices by Christmas of this year. By this time next year, most CD and DVD players will be given the ability to read MP3 files to stay competitive in the market.

With billions of dollars in device sales on the line, the big electronic companies are not going to let such a bill pass without some of their input. Cassettes and CDs players are a stagnant market with some homes already owning several of the devices. New products based on the MP3 format revitalize sales for these companies as everyone is again a first time buyer. After witnessing what digital music did for CD burner sales, you know the electronic conglomerates see digital music as their next big windfall.

Bottom line, a big fight is coming on the steps of Capital Hill and as Webnoise succinctly put it:

The big winners here? Attorneys representing companies on both sides of the fence. Possible losers? Anybody who wants to exercise fair-use rights for copying, scholarship or criticism.

You can read the draft of the Security Systems Standards and Certification Act here. has started a petition against the SSSCA. If you want to sign the petition you can do so here.


Other Stories:
6 CDs a Year - That's all the average person buys. This has significant meaning to the Net music world.
RCA K@zoo may become first MP3Pro player
Bang and Olufsen Go MP3
How the Supreme Court may save Napster


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