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Fast Forward by Rob Pegoraro

As Copyright Gets a Starring Role, We're Cast as the Villains

By Rob Pegoraro
Sunday, March 31, 2002; Page H06

The entertainment industry has a problem: Not only are people sampling, sharing and swapping movies and music online, many don't even think they're stealing.

The industry has tried to stop this in the courts without much lasting success, and its limited, clumsy Internet ventures haven't drawn many customers either.

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Congress Urged to Let Industry Solve Digital Piracy Problem (The Washington Post, Mar 14, 2002)
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So the entertainment industry has turned to Congress for help. Last Thursday, Sen. Ernest F. Hollings (D-S.C.) introduced the "Consumer Broadband and Digital Television Promotion Act."

This bill would require things that can retrieve, copy or display copyrighted digital works -- a computer, MP3 jukebox, CD player, TV, cell phone, photo-editing program, operating system, seemingly anything with a chip or code in it -- to obey copy-protection rules encoded in these movies, music, pictures and books.

The technology behind this would be chosen either by representatives of manufacturers, copyright owners and consumers or, in case of an impasse, by the Federal Communications Commission.

But your fair-use rights -- your ability to back up a record or put together your own music collection -- would be at the sufferance of copyright owners alone. The only "fair use" spelled out in the bill is recording a TV program.

Making or selling new hardware or software that didn't support this copy-protection regime would be a federal crime, punishable by a fine of up to half a million dollars and as many as five years in jail -- for the first offense.

Those caught tampering with these copy-protection measures could also be fined and imprisoned.

Hollings's bill raises many questions. For instance, when did it become government's job to promote broadband and digital television in the first place? How will making TVs and computers less capable foster that goal? What's to stop the other 5.9 billion people on earth from making their own, non-copy-crippled hardware and software?

And just why do we need this technological totalitarianism in the first place?

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