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  Feinstein's rip-off

ON MARCH 29 , Sen. Dianne Feinstein announced she would support a controversial Senate bill that punishes consumers and suppresses the development of free software: the Consumer Broadband and Digital Television Promotion Act.

If passed, the CBDTPA would make it a criminal offense to copy digital copyrighted materials and would require all software and hardware manufacturers to include devices in their products that would prevent consumers from playing ripped versions of CDs, DVDs, software, and other data. According to Feinstein, rampant ripping "could destroy the entire record and movie industry unless there is copy protection involved."

But Hollings's bill could be a death knell for consumer rights and wouldn't protect artists' rights either. Consumers wouldn't be allowed to make fair-use copies of music and movies they'd purchased, which many critics argue would discourage them from buying in the first place. Why buy music if you can only play it in one device? Moreover, the CBDTPA would seriously jeopardize the thriving free-software movement, which works via international collaboration. With the CBDTPA in place, any code developed outside the United States – without embedded copy protection – would be noncompliant, and therefore U.S. developers would be unable to incorporate it into their work.

A similar bill is being introduced in the House of Representatives by Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.). Sen. Barbara Boxer and Rep. Nancy Pelosi have yet to take a stand on the CBDTPA. Find out how to participate in the Senate's call for comments about digital-rights management at www.eff.org/alerts/20020322_eff_cbdtpa_alert.html. Urge your representatives to stand up for consumer rights, and to just say no to the CBDTPA.