Some legal issues, some technical issues, a little personal insight... This is what Professor Felten gives us here. Some excellent questions rose to the top in this interview, and the answers are similarly thoughtful. Major thanks go out to Professor Felten, also to the many Slashdot people who submitted great questions!
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 industries.
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 do.
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 narrow.
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 choose?
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 voters.
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 follow?
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 measures?
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 helpful.
I agree that positive action is important. I view this as a two-track process.
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 their world.
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.