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Analog Hole Bill Would Impose a Secret Law

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8 replies to this topic

#1 of 9 OFFLINE   Ken Horowitz

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Posted January 25 2006 - 02:07 AM

Ed Felten at his "Freedom to Tinker" site addresses the draft analog-hole bill. I'll quote his initial post below, but there's ongoing discussion of interest there as well.


If you've been reading here lately, you know that I'm no fan of the Sensenbrenner/Conyers analog hole bill. The bill would require almost all analog video devices to implement two technologies called CGMS-A and VEIL. CGMS-A is reasonably well known, but the VEIL content protection technology is relatively new. I wanted to learn more about it.

So I emailed the company that sells VEIL and asked for a copy of the specification. I figured I would be able to get it. After all, the bill would make compliance with the VEIL spec mandatory -- the spec would in effect be part of the law. Surely, I thought, they're not proposing passing a secret law. Surely they're not going to say that the citizenry isn't allowed to know what's in the law that Congress is considering. We're talking about television here, not national security.

After some discussion, the company helpfully explained that I could get the spec, if I first signed their license agreement. The agreement requires me (a) to pay them $10,000, and (b) to promise not to talk to anybody about what is in the spec. In other words, I can know the contents of the bill Congress is debating, but only if I pay $10k to a private party, and only if I promise not to tell anybody what is in the bill or engage in public debate about it.

Worse yet, this license covers only half of the technology: the VEIL decoder, which detects VEIL signals. There is no way you or I can find out about the encoder technology that puts VEIL signals into video.

The details of this technology are important for evaluating this bill. How much would the proposed law increase the cost of televisions? How much would it limit the future development of TV technology? How likely is the technology to mistakenly block authorized copying? How adaptable is the technology to the future? All of these questions are important in debating the bill. And none of them can be answered if the technology part of the bill is secret.

Which brings us to the most interesting question of all: Are the members of Congress themselves, and their staffers, allowed to see the spec and talk about it openly? Are they allowed to consult experts for advice? Or are the full contents of this bill secret even from the lawmakers who are considering it?

#2 of 9 OFFLINE   RobertR


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Posted January 25 2006 - 02:43 AM

Ken, that's astounding. This is exactly the kind of "hand out special favors to a well financed interest group" legislation I despise.

#3 of 9 OFFLINE   John C

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Posted January 25 2006 - 02:59 AM

Typical. Consumers lose once again. At the rate things are going, VEIL probably monitors what programs we watch. "Hey, we've got a household here watching too much Al Jazeera! Better send them off to Guantanemo!"

#4 of 9 OFFLINE   Aaron_Brez


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Posted January 25 2006 - 03:15 AM

Yep. Bad law. Totally disgusting.

#5 of 9 OFFLINE   george kaplan

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Posted January 25 2006 - 05:47 AM

I'm sure it's 100% necessary for national security.

Yeah, right.

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#6 of 9 OFFLINE   Chu Gai

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Posted January 25 2006 - 06:44 AM

The thing is I think is that the bill has a better chance of passing not as a standalone but as a rider onto something else. Note that both congressmen are up for re-election in 2006 and both receive funding (contributions) from organizations that would benefit from the dangerous consumer. Also, in another thread I mentioned that one aspect of the bill, if I read it correctly, is that it would exempt 'professional' equipment from being enhanced...err, broken. To me this suggests that established media like the NY Times, TV, etc. would enjoy the bill's passage since this would make it more difficult for alternative dissemination of news and entertainment.

#7 of 9 OFFLINE   Ken Horowitz

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Posted January 25 2006 - 06:57 AM

if I read it correctly, is that it would exempt 'professional' equipment from being enhanced...err, broken
Yes, indeed. Here's an excerpt from Ed Felten on the Professional Device Hole (more details and comments at his site):


The Analog Hole Bill would mandate that any devices that can translate certain types of video signals from analog to digital form must comply with a Byzantine set of design restrictions that talk about things like "certified digital content rights protection output technologies". Let's put aside for now the details of the technology design being mandated; I'll critique them in a later post. I want to write today about the bill's exemption for "professional devices":

PROFESSIONAL DEVICE. -- (A) The term "professional device" means a device that is designed, manufactured, marketed, and intended for use by a person who regularly employs such a device for lawful business or industrial purposes, such as making, performing, displaying, distributing, or transmitting copies of audiovisual works on a commercial scale at the request of, or with the explicit permission of, the copyright owner.

(B) If a device is marketed to or is commonly purchased by persons other than those described in subparagraph (A), then such device shall not be considered to be a "professional device".
Tim Lee at Tech Liberation Front points out one problem with this exemption:

"Professional" devices, you see, are exempt from the restrictions that apply to all other audiovisual products. This raises some obvious questions: is it the responsibility of a "professional device" maker to ensure that too many "non-professionals" don't purchase their product? If a company lowers its price too much, thereby allowing too many of the riffraff to buy it, does the company become guilty of distributing a piracy device? Perhaps the government needs to start issuing "video professional" licenses so we know who's allowed to be part of this elite class?

I think this legislative strategy is extremely revealing. Clearly, Sensenbrenner's Hollywood allies realized that all this copy-protection nonsense could cause problems for their own employees, who obviously need the unfettered ability to create, manipulate, and convert analog and digital content. This is quite a reasonable fear: if you require all devices to recognize and respect encoded copy-protection information, you might discover that content which you have a legitimate right to access has been locked out of reach by over-zealous hardware. But rather than taking that as a hint that there's something wrong with the whole concept of legislatively-mandated copy-protection technology, Hollywood's lobbyists took the easy way out: they got themselves exempted from the reach of the legislation.
In fact, the professional device hole is even better for Hollywood than Tim Lee realizes. Not only will it protect Hollywood from the downside of the bill, it will also create new barriers to entry, making it harder for amateurs to create and distribute video content -- and just at the moment when technology seems to be enabling high-quality amateur video distribution.

The really interesting thing about the professional device hole is that it makes one provision of the bill utterly impossible to put into practice. For those reading along at home, I'm referring to the robustness rulemaking of section 202(1), which requires the Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) to establish technical requirements that (among other things) "can only with difficulty be defeated or circumvented by use of professional tools or equipment". But there's a small problem: professional tools are exempt from the technical requirements.

The robustness requirements, in other words, have to stop professional tools from copying content -- and they have to do that, somehow, without regulating what professional tools can do. That, as they say, is a tall order.

That's all for today, class. Here's the homework, due next time:
(1) Table W, the most technical part of the bill, contains an error. (It's a substantive error, not just a typo.) Explain what the error is.
(2) How would you fix the error?
(3) What can we learn from the fact that the error is still in the bill at this late date?

#8 of 9 OFFLINE   Dan Hitchman

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Posted January 31 2006 - 04:16 PM

Okay, I'll say it: fucking bought bastards.

#9 of 9 OFFLINE   Ed St. Clair

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Posted February 02 2006 - 02:58 PM

I'll do you one worse, Dan;
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HD should be for EVERYONE!

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