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Here we'll explore the nexus of legal rulings, Capitol Hill policy-making, technical standards development, and technological innovation that creates -- and will recreate -- the networked world as we know it. Among the topics we'll touch on: intellectual property conflicts, technical architecture and innovation, the evolution of copyright, private vs. public interests in Net policy-making, lobbying and the law, and more.

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May 19, 2004

How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the Past

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Annalee Newitz in her latest Techsploitation column, on the "upside" of the FCC retarding the development of new technologies like GNU Radio by setting up a use-restriction folding chair -- e.g., the broadcast flag mandate -- at the behest of the motion picture industry:


Maybe we should try to put the broadcast flag mandate in a more positive light, though. It's not really an anti-future rule – it's just pro-past! And hey, everybody knows that the best thing for science and technology is a really strong, pro-past agenda. After all, physicists recently predicted that Moore's Law (which stipulates that the number of transistors on a microprocessor doubles every 18 months) will break down in 600 years, so we should probably start slowing down the future as soon as we can.

Comments (4) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Laws and Regulations


COMMENTS

1. cypherpunk on May 19, 2004 10:26 PM writes...

That column is way over the top. "There's a nifty little device out there right now that would allow you to use your computer to listen to the radio, watch digital TV, and surf the Web at the same time. It's a cool machine called a GNU Radio, and you're not allowed to buy one." But the BF mandate doesn't even go into effect until July 2005, so it can't have any impact on whether you can buy a GNU radio today. And in truth, you can download and use GNU Radio software right now.

Further, it's not completely clear how the BF will interact with GNU Radio. GR is a software product, not a machine. From it's web site: "GNU Radio is a collection of software that when combined with minimal hardware, allows the construction of radios where the actual waveforms transmitted and received are defined by software."

GR by itself, the software, doesn't do anything. You need to hook it up to a special radio receiver. It seems clear that the BF regulation will apply to the conjunction of the GR software plus radio receiver. But it's not clear how it will apply if these products are made available separately. Will it be illegal to distribute open source software which can view HDTV using the appropriate hardware receiver? Will it be illegal to sell the receivers if they are such that a PC running GNU Radio can use them to decrypt HDTV? Or will they both be legal to sell, but not to put them together? I don't think anyone knows.

Even with the restrictions, it should still be legal to produce a commercial device that used GNU Radio software internally and which observed the BF. The GNU rules require the source code to be available, but I don't think they require that the user have any way of opening up the device in which the software is embedded and reprogramming it. So the BF is not necessarily incompatible with the use of open source software, only with using it in a mode where people can use it to disable the restrictions.

In short the situation is much more complicated than Newitz lets on, but I guess the details wouldn't have made for such a dramatic column.

Permalink to Comment

2. Seth Finkelstein on May 19, 2004 11:23 PM writes...

I wrote this a while back, when the broadcast flag mandates were first issued:

Make it FCC compliant, by all means. Why buy trouble?

/* The following lines implement the broadcast flag per FCC rules.
DO NOT DELETE THESE LINES UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES. No way. Nuh-huh.
Don't do it. You'd be a bad boy if these lines were deleted.
Naughty, naughty, naughty, on you for deleting this part of the file
Nudge-nudge-wink-wink know what I mean?
*/

In fact, I think the broadcast flag would be great as an
independent loadable kernel module. Good design. Make sure you load
that module now, the FCC requires it. Go look at the BROADCAST-FLAG-HOWTO.
Not loading the module would be against the law, and we know you
wouldn't want to go there, right?

In reality, you can't get away with that stuff. But I couldn't
resist the joke today.

Permalink to Comment

3. Ernest Miller on May 20, 2004 9:02 AM writes...

For Cypherpunk, I think that whatever device ultimately decodes the HDTV (whether hardware or software) will be required to enforce the BF.

For Seth, the BF contains a loophole for devices manufactured for export. So, as long as your website makes clear that only people outside the US are supposed to download the software (along with some sort of check of where they live - "Question - Where do you live? If outside the US, download, if inside the US, you can't download.") you might be okay.

Permalink to Comment

4. HDTV Info on July 26, 2004 7:50 PM writes...

Seth said: "Not loading the module would be against the law, and we know you
wouldn't want to go there, right?


In reality, you can't get away with that stuff. "

I think Internet is still a place that you can get away with illegal activities like downloading.

Permalink to Comment


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