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Letter to the Editor: DMCA - We Can Change A Bad Law

Nov 02, 2001, 23:59 (18 Talkback[s])

Editor's Note: There have been several issues lately that have attracted the attention of Linux Today readers: the W3C's consideration of patents, the SSSCA, the long-standing issues with the DMCA, The Dmitry Sklyarov arrest, and others. Reactions have been varied, from letter-writing campaigns to boycotts to simple participation in online discussions. There are lots of discussions to be had regarding the best way to approach the people in power for the redress of perceived wrongs. Mr. Linton's letter presents an approach to the simple act of writing your senator that seems thoughtful and avoids the condescension that's often obvious to everybody but the technically-oriented writer penning a missive. Moreover, it's an approach that's applicable in several arenas. While Mr. Linton's letter might not be the one every reader would write, it's a good start, and we're happy to present it here.

DMCA - We Can Change A Bad Law

By Rip Linton

I often hear and read comments from people who are convinced that they can not do anything to fight the effects of legislation supported by the big special interest lobbies. As one who stays very involved in the legislative system, I can assure you that there is no truth to that.

Legislators are very aware that the people they represent control their future in politics. Every politician knows that corporations are not the ones who go to the polls on election day. We can, and do, affect the outcome of elections. It just takes getting involved in the process. There are many ways to get an unfriendly politician out of the position. I may provide some more on that subject at a later time. This articles intent is to detail a way to effectively fight a specific law.

Just as we can control who we elect, we can have a strong influence on how they represent us. The way we do that is by providing input, to them, on problems with laws.

We must remember that legislators are people, even though that seems to be debatable at times. As such, they are affected by the same things that all of us are. They are not experts on every subject that comes to them for action. They rely on people who understand the issues to enlighten them. If the only input they get is from sources that have a different point of view than ours, we can not expect them to act in our interest. They also are not receptive to combative or negative language. We need to make our points in positive and factual ways without attacking those with opposing view points.

Now to the real issue. To effect changes to the laws that were affected by the DMCA we have to be aware that legislators will not be receptive to suggestions that the entire act should be repealed. If we send comments like, "I think the Digital Millennium Copyright Act is a bad law that should be repealed.", we have done several things to hurt our cause.

  1. We are telling them that we want them to admit they made a mistake by passing the act in the first place. That will not sit well with many legislators.
  2. We have given them no input on what the problems are with the law.
  3. We have not given them any input on how the problems could be addressed without scrapping the whole thing.

On the other hand, we do not want to overwhelm them with information about the problems. I find that if an initial contact runs over one page, it often gets only a cursory glance. We need to make our points in a clear and concise manor.

I know that many of you, who have read articles written by me, will find it hard to believe that I can write anything that runs less than the length of a novel. However, I try to keep initial contact to less than a page. If the legislator wants more info, they will contact me.

I always give them complete contact information. This allows them to get in touch should they need additional information and allows them to verify that I am one of the people that they represent. Always include your real name, a mailing address (and a physical address if your mailing address is not in their area), a daytime phone number and an email address.

The first issue I am working on, with respect to the DMCA, is the lack of specificity of Title 17 Chapter 12 Section 1201.3.B in the definition of "A Technological Measure".

To try to change this definition I am sending the following:

Senator ---------,

I have become aware of a problem with Title 17 Chapter 12 that affects me directly.

Section 1201(3)(B) defines a technological measure. The definition is overly broad in that it does not specify that the measure is to be provided by the content owner. This allows interpretation that features of the operating system of a computer, such as Windows, could be assumed to provide the protection. From reading the Conference Committee reports, from the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, I know that this was not the intention of the law.

I would propose that the section be changed by inserting, "is provided by the copyright owner as part of the media the work is distributed on" between, "if the measure" and ", in the ordinary".

I would also suggest that the wording, "And the measure was developed by, or under contract to, the content provider solely for the protection of the covered work." be placed at the end of the existing definition.

These two changes would make it clear that the operating systems file handler is not intended to protect specific content provided by a copyright holder.

Thank you for your consideration,
(full name

There are, of course, many other problems with the laws that were enacted by the DMCA. I find that often when I address one issue, like this, I will get a follow up asking me it there are any other problems that should be addressed. If that does not happen, I wait a couple of weeks, then I address another problem in a similar fashion.

Also, often the issue will not be addressed in the current session. When that happens, I make additional contact a couple of weeks prior to the next session.

I also try to get others to make similar contact so they hear from a lot of concerned people. I present the issue, and my opinion on it, then I encourage them to research it and make their position known. It does not matter if their position is not the same as mine. What counts is getting the legislator to see that there is broad interest in the subject.

Try it out, you may be pleasantly surprised. You may even find that you have more in common with those who represent you than you thought.