Thursday, March 30, 2006

Response to Congressman Cannon

I have to admit being rather impressed that Mr. Cannon would write back to me specifically (or more likely, that he would instruct one of his office staff to write back to me specifically - either way I feel somewhat heard).

Still, you can't help but love some of the comments in the e-mail. Such as, "This legislation is designed to address the generally held concern for the 'Analog Hole Problem.'" "Generally held concern?" I hadn't realized that the general public was deeply concerned about the fact that they can legally record copies of their favorite shows. More likely, I suspect that the "generally held concern" would be that this freedom would be taken away.

I also love this phrase: "usage rights negotiated through voluntary agreements." Tell me - when was the last time you negotiated a voluntary usage agreement for a CD, a DVD, or a television program? Where is the contract you signed or the license agreement you agreed to adhere to?

Another good line is: "there is nothing to prevent manufacturers from taking advantage of the Analog Hole and allowing unrestricted copying and redistribution of content." Agreed. And there hasn't been since the start. And this act is not going to stop people from making and redistributing copies of protected content, trust me. But at least now we are getting somewhere.

Here's the point - this is a law that takes freedom away from the law-abiding citizens and does nothing to really prevent the criminals from committing crime. If we assume that people are not idiots, the only other assumption we can come up with is that those promoting this bill know it won't prevent piracy - instead, it is about greed, power, money, and control, primarily that you and I have less of these and give more of these to the government and to wealthy corporations.

Anyway, here's my response to his e-mail:

Dear Congressman Cannon:

Thank you for your response to my concern. I can tell by reading your response that it is tailored to my concerns, as opposed to a general-purpose form response. I was impressed to see a response that was tailored to my concerns.

I appreciate that you would take the effort to explain this problem to me. As a professional, senior-level software engineer with over ten years of experience, you can be assured that I have a pretty firm grasp on technology, digital rights management, patents and copyrights, and other issues surrounding intellectual property.

I have argued both sides of these issues in my career and have seen many valid points on both sides. I have many concerns about intellectual property administration and policy in general in our country; much of this has to do with our country's future in a world economy and our ability to continue to compete.

I won't get into all of these issues because it will take even longer than what is already stated herein. Instead of delving into the issues of this bill at hand, I prefer to keep the details out and discuss what is happening in general terms.

What is happening in general terms is that certain corporations have identified a means by which people COULD steal from them. The capability to steal their property is not new (people have had this ability for decades), but the ability to prevent it IS relatively new. Thus, they are asking to pass a law that makes it so people cannot choose to steal from these companies.

This is my key area of concern. My problem with this is that, at a fundamental, moral, and religious level, I think it is wrong to enact law that takes away an individual's freedom to choose, even if it is to choose to commit a crime. Do I think that people who steal should be let free? No; on the contrary, I depend upon the laws of our country to uphold penalties for stealing intellectual property, or I would otherwise lose my livelihood.

But what we are talking about here is passing a law so that people won't be able to commit a crime. This is a different case, and I think it sets a dangerous legal precedent. You said that you have "always tried to outlaw piracy." Congressman Cannon, piracy is already outlawed. This bill is not about outlawing piracy; it is about removing freedoms from the law-abiding majority in order to prevent some people from committing piracy. What comes next? Disallowing people to host their own blogs because they might post child pornography? Outlawing the ownership of firearms because someone might use one to kill someone else? Revoking all driving privileges because someone might use a car to get away from a bank robbery?

In addition to these moral concerns, I do not think that such laws will work out as we believe they will. If the innovation to legally circumvent such restrictions or provide alternative solutions doesn't originate within the United States, I believe it will elsewhere, which will be worse than having to deal with the stolen IP in the first place.

It is better to let these corporations learn how to adapt to a new market and to new consumer demand. If the economy is like a natural ecosystem, then corporations in that ecosystem are like animal species. The ecosystem becomes more robust only if natural selection is allowed to run its course. Corporations that can't innovate to meet new consumer demand shouldn't be able to rely upon the government to save them from having to evolve.
Imagine if the wagonmakers of 100 years ago had successfully rallied together and lobbied Congress to enact laws making automobiles illegal. They may have stated a noble premise (say, because automobiles are more unsafe than wagons, which is probably true, or that they would make it easier to commit crime, which is probably also true), but you and I know what the real reason would have been - to preserve their line of business.
Imagine if they had been successful. Not only would we still be using horse and wagon, but there are many other ways our society would have changed as a result. Our cities would be smaller and more crowded, since people couldn't live more than a mile or two from employment. And how many hundreds of thousands of Americans are employed today because of the automobile industry, either directly (manufacturing, design, testing, etc.) or indirectly (parts, petroleum, highway construction, tire manufacture)?
We can see that this would have been a devastating step to take. More likely, this innovation would have occured in another country, and we would have cars today, but we would not have had the economic benefit like we have had.

This situation is no different fundamentally. Corporations are asking for law to be passed so that they don't have to compete or evolve. This is a short-sighted view that is detrimental to our long-term viability. It is wrong on an economic as well as at a moral level. I urge you to help our Congress understand the danger of such laws and to cease consideration of this bill. I appreciate your consideration and responsiveness to my concerns thusfar.

Warmest Regards,

Matt Ryan

Letter From Congress On the Digital Transition Content Security Act (DTCSA)

If you read my blog you'll remember this earlier post on the DTCSA. I fear that someday we will all be rolling that acronym off our tongues as slickly and contemptuously as we say DMCA today.

Anyway, I thought you might be interested to read the correspondence I have had thusfar with Congressman Chris Cannon, who is the US Congress representative from where I live.

Here's a letter I received back from him on this subject:

Dear Matt:

Thank you for contacting me about H.R. 4569, the Digital Transition Content Security Act (DTCSA). It is good to hear from you.

This legislation is designed to address the generally held concern for the "Analog Hole Problem" that occurs when the usage rights negotiated through voluntary agreements that are applied to high value digital content basically disappear when that digital content is converted into analog form. Content is "in the clear" once it has been converted to analog form. Unlike encrypted digital content, where access to the decryption keys can be subject to particular content usage obligations, there are no keys, licenses, or contractual obligations required to access and manipulate unencrypted "in the clear" analog content. Currently, there is nothing to prevent manufacturers from taking advantage of the Analog Hole and allowing unrestricted copying and redistribution of content that originated in a protected digital format.

The purpose behind the legislation is to preserve the same usage rights when video content is digitized as would have applied had the content not been stripped of its usage rights information in the format conversion process. For my part, I have always tried to outlaw piracy while trying to maintain fair usage rights for consumers. My position on the Judiciary Committee has given me the great opportunity to advocate for technological advances while working to clarify copyright law.

I am weary of government mandates on technology, believing that manufactures should do most of the negotiating. I do not believe it is the role of government to pick the winners and losers among different technologies. The preferred method is always private sector solutions to\ncontent protection issues. The market is generally well-suited to deal with the usage issues surrounding digital content, and it is doing so on many fronts.

Thank you once more for expressing your concerns. I will examine this bill, desiring to leave to the market what can be solved in the market while ensuring consumer choice and a level playing field for manufacturers. You raise legitimate questions that I will keep in mind as this bill and other Intellectual Property issues are addressed in the House of Representatives.

If I may be of further assistance, please do not hesitate to contact me. For more information on issues currently in Congress, please visit my website at

Warmest regards,

Chris Cannon
Member of Congress

Monday, March 13, 2006

The Rock is Rolling On

That to-be-expected but nonetheless-saddening day arrived - Mike LaRocco has retired from professional racing.

I actually have Mike LaRocco's autograph. Don't laugh. I had to wait in line a long time to get it.

I don't want to wax poetic about Mike LaRocco. Something about LaRocco and poetry don't seem to mix, anyway. Let's just say, this guy is a true half bad boy. Supercross racer, hard worker, good father, and married to a babe - what all us half bad boys aspire to (and, at least the being married to a babe part, some of us have accomplished - like me).

Mike's had some great moments, but his last win at Indianapolis in front of his home crowd was one of the best in all of Supercross history. You'll be missed, Mike.

Chad Reed is the Man - Again

Ok, I know that RC won Daytona, pretty handily in fact. But the Half Bad Boy award has to go to Chad Reed. He took second place - with a separated shoulder?! This guy is one tough mother.

Hats off to Chad for a gutty performance at the toughest track of the year to stay right in the thick of the points battle.

Oh, and for those of you that say, "Well, Stewart would have beaten Chad if he hadn't crashed." I got news for you - Stewart crashed. Crashing is a part of the sport. The winner is whoever can get through 20 laps the quickest, not whoever can post the fastest lap time. You might as well say, "Stewart would have beaten Chad, if he could have completed the race before Chad." In other words, it is a dumb thing to say, so don't say it.

Way to go, Chad. You rock. Keep toting the banner for us half bad boys.