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Proposed Telecom Laws Draw Fire

MPAA fights Internet theft; opponents fear for security research
Software experts, academics, and industry representatives are voicing concern about an ongoing effort by the Motion Picture Association of America to bring additional restrictions to existing state telecommunication laws. The proposed legislation, dubbed by its opponents as super-DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act), seeks to ban the concealment of the origin or destination of an electronic communication. Opponents say the laws will make anonymous speech on the Internet illegal, and even security experts and researchers worry the legislation may be too broad.

The MPAA says new laws are needed to stem the rising tide of copyright theft over the Internet. "This is about stopping theft and piracy and keeping up with new technologies," says Vans Stevenson, senior VP of state legislative affairs at the MPAA. The laws would also ban devices that could be used to view or steal copy-protected material on the Internet. "More people are gaining the ability to download full-length motion pictures quickly," Jack Valenti, the MPAA's president and CEO, testified before Congress last month. "The threat to the motion-picture industry from Internet piracy is growing."

JACK VALENTI PHOTO

Internet piracy of movies threatens the movie industry, MPAA CEO Valenti says.
Proposed laws, largely based on a model crafted by the MPAA, are pending in Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Massachusetts, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas. The MPAA says similar Internet piracy laws have passed in recent years in Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. Observers say pending legislation is more restrictive than that already passed."The new laws require users get permission to view or download copyrighted material on any device," says David McClure, president of the U.S. Internet Industry Association.

Opponents maintain that the MPAA is attempting, state by state, to broaden restrictions of the federal DMCA law, which makes the development of hardware or software that cracks digital copy-protection schemes illegal. The MPAA argues that the bills upgrade laws that have been on the books for 20 years to stop cable-TV and cell-phone theft.

The Consumer Electronics Association worries that a provision to ban devices that could be used to view or steal copy-protected material on the Internet would be detrimental to those who use those devices for legitimate purposes, says Jeff Joseph, the group's VP of communications and strategic relationships. At least one security expert is concerned about the long-term ramifications. "I'm worried that it doesn't have a security research provision, and that it's overly broad," says Chris Wysopal, director of research and development at security firm @stake Inc. @stake helps companies find security holes in their systems, and Wysopal is concerned that his firm "may run afoul of doing the things we do for our clients to test their systems and software."

Last week, testifying before the Joint Committee on Criminal Justice in Massachusetts, John Palfrey, executive director of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School, said the proposed legislation in Massachusetts "will go further than just banning hacking and stealing. This law will stifle research." Palfrey said researchers have had to appear in federal court to determine if their work is lawful under the DMCA.

Late last week, the MPAA altered the language of its model legislation so that only those acting with "intent to defraud" would be liable. Stevenson says he hopes this will help allay concerns in the high-tech and consumer-electronics industries.

Photo by Robert Mora/Getty News