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Congress Takes Aim at 'Analog Hole'

By John P. Mello Jr.
Jan 17, 2006 8:18 AM PT

A bill to place copying controls on the conversion of analog signals into digital form is coming under fire from technologists and civil libertarians.

Congress Takes Aim at 'Analog Hole'

The measure, filed by House Judiciary Committee Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.) and his colleague John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.), is aimed at closing what's come to be known as the "analog hole" in schemes to protect digital media such as movie DVDs and music CDs.

In a speech that appeared in the Congressional Record last month, Sensenbrenner declared, "The 'analog hole' is unfortunately a potential source of pirated content that becomes an attractive target for pirates as high quality sources of content are made available to the public in high-definition format.

"Congress is already considering another technology, the 'broadcast flag,' to address the redistribution of high-definition content," he added. "The analog hole is its counterpart."

Not Quite Its Counterpart

The "flag" is a digital rights management (DRM) system for controlling what consumers can do with digital television (DTV) content. The approach, already embraced by the satellite and cable-TV industries, prevents people from copying content and redistributing it on the Internet.

However, according to Michael Petricone, vice president for technology policy for the Consumer Electronics Association in Washington, D.C., this attempt to plug the analog hole isn't quite the counterpart of the broadcast flag.

"The broadcast flag was devised over a period of years in a voluntary fashion by a group of technology and content companies," he told TechNewsWorld.

He said that the Sensenbrenner bill "is something that was cooked up entirely by the content community, that wound up in legislation, doesn't have any kind of industry consensus at all and contains technology that no one knows about."

Broad Proposal

Moreover, the proposed law is very broadly drafted, he maintained. "It could cover any component, any software code, anything that could function as an analog-to-digital converter," he said.

The legislation places an onerous burden on hardware makers according to Joe Born, CEO of Neuros Technology International, a maker of portable digitial media players and recorders in Chicago.

"It's asking us to justify our existence and prove that our devices won't be used for piracy," he told TechNewsWorld. "That's an unreasonably high standard."

'Mark of the Beast'

The legislation requires that technology to mark digital content created from an analog source be included in all devices with analog to digital capabilities.

"Hollywood wants to put a mark -- sort of like a mark of the beast for video content -- that says that this is MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) content, and we want to control what you can do with it," Fred von Lohmann, a staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation in San Francisco, told TechNewsWorld.

"In order for that to work," he continued, "they have to have the federal government require every technology to detect this mark of the beast and obey it."

Toy Technology

He explained that there are two marking technologies mentioned in the bill, CGMS-A and VEIL.

"CGMS-A was standardized many years ago, but no technology company is required to implement it, and virtually no one uses it," he said.

"VEIL, to our knowledge, has never been used for content protection," he added. "In fact, the only use of the VEIL technology that we have been able to find is for a Batman toy. With certain Batman cartoons, the toys will light up in response to the mark embedded in the cartoon."

Every Consumer a Criminal

Jarad Carleton, an IT industry analyst at Frost & Sullivan in Palo Alto, Calif., expressed outrage at the bill.

"It's astounding to me that Jim Sensenbrenner and John Conyers are wasting time introducing a worthless bill when there is much more important business to be attended to by the U.S. government," he told TechNewsWorld.

"If the movie industry is interested in protecting its intellectual property, it has technology available to it by companies such as Macrovision that can provide a hurdle high enough to dissuade most casual pirates from trying to copy DVDs," Carleton said.

"I think the real issue here is that these members of Congress are in the pocket of some lobbyists that are pushing the notion that entertainment company consumers are not customers, they are criminals," he added.


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