October 30, 2002

Wishful Thinking, Leeway, and Copy Control

Ed Felten has two posts which I think make an unexpected point in contrast - Wishful Thinking, roughly regarding universal copy-control in hardware, and "leeway" about making laws function effectively.

I suggest that applying the "leeway" concept to the Wishful Thinking post yields an interesting result.

That is, in a way, the spokesman for Hollings, regarding controls, is more correct than is being granted:

Andy Davis, a spokesman for Mr. Hollings, said the technology-minded critics of the bill were "missing the thrust of the senator's argument," which is that there is need for more protection of copyright works if online content and broadband Internet access are to flourish

This is a "politics" reply, which focuses on the short, snappy soundbite, i.e., what-about-the-children, it's-against-theft, motherhood-and-apple-pie, etc. But that shouldn't blind us to the existence of an argument underneath it all.

The idea of Felten's Fritz's Hit List, is mocking Hollings by applying the law as if there were NO "leeway" in it. That's fun.

But I think this is being mistaken for a killer argument that any mandatory copy control proposals must fail, because they must blindly be applied in the most extreme and literal sense. That's appealing to the technical mindset, because one can equivalence all general computers at some abstract level. But it's a much weaker argument in practice.

What the spokesman doesn't want to say, because it would be horrible press-speak, is the following: "Look, this isn't about talking dog collars. It's about locking down what 99.9% of the population uses for business or entertainment. The hard problem is coming up with a solution that works for all of Hollywood and Intel and Microsoft. The practical difficulty is there, not in dog collars."

I don't think it's necessarily correct to believe that this is an unsolvable problem, because we postulate there can be no leeway in the required control for their purposes. Their goal is working the difference between theory and practice.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in copyblight , infothought | on October 30, 2002 07:03 AM (Infothought permalink) | Followups

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