"...I don't think the legislators who support these bills really understand the harm they would do. In my experience, if you can explain to them what the problem is, they will want to do the right thing. (They may not kill a bad bill entirely, but they will at least try to amend it to fix problems.) The hard part is to get their attention, and then to explain the problem in a manner that non-geeks can understand.
The underlying problem, I think, is that geeks think about technology in a different way than non-geeks do. The differences have sunk deeply into the basic worldviews of the two communities, so that their consequences seem to be a matter of common sense to each group. This is why it often looks to each group as if members of the other group are idiots.
Here's an example. Geeks think of networks as being like the Internet: composed of semi-independent interoperating parts, and built in layers. Non-geeks tend to think of networks as being like the old-time telephone monopoly: centrally organized and managed, non-layered, and provided by a single company. It's not that they don't know that the world has changed -- if you ask them what the Internet is like, they'll say that it's decentralized and layered. But the *implications* of those changes haven't sunk deeply into their brains, so they tend not to see problems that are obvious to geeks."
Here is a partial text of the article at:
1) From your discussions with them...
...do you perceive that legislators are aware of the extraordinarily
broad negative implications of these new telecommunications laws that
are being proposed/enacted?
Also, if you are aware of it, have the hardware/software manufacturers
who will be affected joined together to fight these laws, or has it
flown under their radar?
Let me take the second part of the question first. Yes, various
manufacturers have opposed the bills. The Consumer Electronics
Association, for example, has opposed them. The MPAA has now changed the
bills in an attempt to make some of the big manufacturers happier.
As to the first part of the question:
No, I don't think the legislators who support these bills really
understand the harm they would do. In my experience, if you can explain
to them what the problem is, they will want to do the right thing. (They
may not kill a bad bill entirely, but they will at least try to amend it
to fix problems.) The hard part is to get their attention, and then to
explain the problem in a manner that non-geeks can understand.
The underlying problem, I think, is that geeks think about technology in
a different way than non-geeks do. The differences have sunk deeply into
the basic worldviews of the two communities, so that their consequences
seem to be a matter of common sense to each group. This is why it often
looks to each group as if members of the other group are idiots.
Here's an example. Geeks think of networks as being like the Internet:
composed of semi-independent interoperating parts, and built in layers.
Non-geeks tend to think of networks as being like the old-time telephone
monopoly: centrally organized and managed, non-layered, and provided by
a single company. It's not that they don't know that the world has
changed -- if you ask them what the Internet is like, they'll say that
it's decentralized and layered. But the *implications* of those changes
haven't sunk deeply into their brains, so they tend not to see problems
that are obvious to geeks.
Geeks will look at proposed network regulation and immediately ask "How
will this affect interoperability?" or "Is this consistent with the
end-to-end principle?" but non-geeks will look at the same proposal and
think of different questions. They know what interoperability is, but
it's just not at the front of their minds.
2) What sort of positive legislation?
Dr. Felten, do you have a suggestion as to what sort of legislation
could be introduced that would soothe the minds of reactionary lawmakers
while preserving the rights that we currently enjoy?
Intellectual property policy is in a crisis right now, caused by
widespread infringement and the excesses of the legal backlash against
it. The biggest problem is hasty legislation that makes the crisis worse
by overregulating legitimate behavior without preventing infringement.
Obviously, it would be a positive step to repeal some of the bad laws
that are already on the books. Part of the problem is a mindset that no
matter what the problem is, the solution must be legislative.
But you asked about positive legislative steps, which is a harder
question. The holy grail here is a non-harmful proposal that reassures
legislators about the continued viability of the music and movie
If you want positive legislation in this area, the best hope is a
compulsory license, which would charge all users of the Net a small,
mandatory fee. In exchange for this, it would become totally legal to
distribute and use any audio and video content on the Net. The revenue
from the fees would be split up among the creators according to a
formula, based on how many times each work was downloaded or played. If
you do the math, the fees can be pretty small while still replacing the
revenue the music and movie industries would otherwise lose.
This is a controversial proposal. It does have drawbacks, and I'm not
quite endorsing it at this point. But if you want to cut the Gordian
knot and end the piracy wars, a compulsory license is one way to do so.
3) Network Identity
One of the rumored new restrictions is that you may not mask the
identity of a network connection. In your opinion, does this refer to
the identity of each machine or the identity of the subscriber (who
might be responsible for several machines behind a firewall, e.g.)?
In other words, are we talking about "people" or "boxes"?
Some proposed bills would make it a crime to "conceal the place of
origin or destination of a communication" from "any communication
provider." I'm not sure whether "place" means a geographic location
(such as my house) or a network address (such as my IP address) or an
identifier (such as a DNS address or email address, either of which
might correspond to a person). As far as I know, supporters of these
bills haven't said clearly which meaning they intend.
Under any of these three readings, such a ban would cause huge problems.
Lots of ordinary security and privacy measures, such as firewalls, VPNs,
encrypted tunnels, and various proxies conceal the origin or destination
of messages, either to protect privacy or as a side-effect of what they
4) Prohibition of what got us here?
Do I completely misunderstand the scope of the DMCA, or would it have
actually prohibited the actions of clone manufacturers, starting with
Compaq, when they reverse-engineered the IBM PC BIOS in 1984?
It seems this simple fact alone would highlight the ludicrous nature of
a law which would prohibit precisely the actions that provided the
current state of the industry.
The effect of the DMCA on reverse engineering is complicated. The DMCA
does not flatly ban reverse engineering, but if you have to circumvent a
technical protection measure in order to do your reverse engineering,
then the DMCA will be an issue. The DMCA does have a limited safe harbor
for reverse engineering, but it has been widely criticized as too
I hate to dodge your question, but I'm not really qualified to say
whether what the clone makers did would be legal under 2003 law.
5) Signal to Noise
One of the problems I see with efforts to try to get the DMCA and
similar legislation revoked and prevented in the future, is a matter of
signal to noise. Most voters don't care about the DMCA or even know
about it, and those who do usually have to worry about more important
priorities like the state of the economy or the war in Iraq. So, my
question is, how can we possibly make the DMCA and its kin important
issues to our legislators? Sure, I can write them, but if they are given
the choice of voting for the DMCA and getting some campaign money, or
voting against and pleasing a handful of constituents, which will they
It's unlikely that the handful of consitutents is going to vote against
the candidate purely because of their DMCA stance. Personally, I'm very
against the DMCA but when the election time comes around, I'm not voting
for the anti-DMCA candidate, I'm voting for the guy who's going to fix
the economy and patch our international relationships. So how can
somebody like myself really get their voice heard by the right people
when the threat of "voting for the other candidate" isn't credible?
In the short run, I think it's more productive to convince legislators
than to threaten them. As you say, there won't be many single-issue DMCA
But even if technological freedom issues like the DMCA aren't the only
factor in a voting decision, they still might tip the balance for some
voters in some races. Even that is enough to make a difference.
Legislators do seem to care what their constituents think, and they do
seem to have a fear of doing something that looks stupid afterward.
In the long run, I hope the public comes to see how technological
improvement flows from the freedom of technologists to learn and create.
If average voters view censorship of technologists in the same way they
view other forms of censorship, we'll be in much better shape.
6) DMCA and EUCD
by Brian Blessed
In your opinion, do residents of Europe and other US-friendly
(business-wise) areas have a hope of avoiding being adversely affected
by the DMCA (or superDMCA) or its foreign implementations (e.g. EUCD)
and is technological civil disobedience the best form of activism to
There is still hope in Europe, but they seem to be heading for the same
kind of regulatory regime we see here in the U.S. Parts of the U.S.
government have been working hard for years to export the U.S. version
of intellectual property law to the rest of the world. All indications
are that Europe will follow us down this path.
7) Our position in the world
Do you see this new legislation altering our ability to work remotely?
Will these restrictions place undue hardship on US workers when compared
with facilities in other countries? Is it likely that other countries
will evolve faster technologically as a result of these draconian
The new regulations on technology will impose a drag on our
technological capabilities, and hence on our productivity. If other
countries are foolish enough to impose the same regulations on their
citizens (and it seems that many will be), then we'll come out even from
a competitive standpoint. More importantly, we'll all be worse off than
we could have been had we all followed better policies.
by Meat Blaster
Our current methods of informing the public and the government about the
evils of the DMCA seem to be reactive and passive -- defending a
lawsuit, writing public responses to the librarian of Congress
periodically about the DMCA, setting up resources where the public if
they were so inclined could stop by and learn about the problem.
Do you feel that it would be a good time for a shift in strategy towards
more active measures such as forming a group to lobby representatives
directly, issuing mailings about the DMCA particularly to those whose
representatives support legislation like the DMCA/UCITA/SSSCA, or
beginning a television ad campaign? Such an endeavor is bound to cost a
bit, but I can't help but feel that particularly with 2004 coming up
having a bit of organized PR on our side of the debate would be quite
I agree that positive action is important. I view this as a two-track
The first track is the one you suggest, of building up lobbying muscle
to challenge harmful regulations. This is challenging, given who is on
the other side, and given the tendency of our opponents to buy off
important players with special-purpose exceptions to their legal
regulations. (For example, the DMCA has special carve-outs for ISPs and
device makers.) We're really just starting in this area, but we need to
remember how much progress has been made since the passage of the DMCA,
which met very little organized resistance at the time.
The second track is to get better at explaining ourselves and at
persuading people that they should support our positions. Especially, we
need to do a better job of finding folks out there who are our natural
allies, and convincing them to join us on these issues, even if we
disagree about some other issues.
An example: auto parts manufacturers are worried by recent DMCA
developments, such as the case where Lexmark has successfully (so far)
used the DMCA against a maker of replacement parts for Lexmark printers.
Auto parts manufacturers are worried that the DMCA mindset, which treats
unauthorized analysis and interoperation as improper, will leak into
9) Roadblocks to IP protections?
Doesn't the DMCA prohibit a company from investigating a violation of
their IP if the violation exists on the other side of encryption?
For example, if company M utilized a software algorithm (putting aside
the argument about software patents for the moment) inside an encrypted
data stream (audio file, video file, etc.) that was actually patented by
company A, wouldn't it be a violation of the DMCA for company A to
investigate this violation of their patent rights? And wouldn't any
evidence they uncovered in violation of the DMCA be inadmissible if they
tried to enforce their patent rights against company M?
This sounds like a likely DMCA violation, but you'll have to consult
your lawyer to be sure.
This is just one instance of a more general problem. Laws like the DMCA
that limit the flow of information will inevitably make it harder to
find out about certain types of misbehavior. Sometimes the misbehavior
will be patent infringement. Sometimes it will be a manufacturer
misleading their customers about the quality of their product.
We value free speech because vigorous public discussion benefits
everybody, though many of those benefits are subtle and indirect. So
far, the legal system has not fully realized that speech about
technology needs to be valued as highly as speech about other topics. I
think the law will eventually catch on, as it becomes clearer to the
average person that their experience of the world, and their interaction
with the world, is mediated by technology.
10) Tell me...
For the love of God, man, why???
Or to put it slightly less sillily, what was (and is!) your motivation
for getting involved in this side of the Computer Science world, say, as
opposed to the nice safe, clean theoretical stuff?
I'm not entirely sure myself. Here's the best answer I can manage:
In deciding what to work on, I really just follow my own quirky sense of
what is interesting and important. If others find the things I do
interesting and important, that's a lucky accident.
But that can't really be the answer to your question, because many of my
colleagues follow the same rule, and they end up working on different
sorts of things than I do. So I must have a different sense of taste
than they do, but I'm not sure why.
The answer doesn't lie in my personal life. When I leave work, I am not
at all a rebel or nonconformist. I have a stable, boring, happy suburban
life, which I wouldn't change for anything.
I should also point out that I do some work that fits into the
traditional academic computer science framework. But you won't read
about that on Slashdot.