Congress Moving Forward On 'P2P' Warning Law
from the unintended-consequences,-anyone? dept
Back in May, we wrote about a bill being proposed by Congress, at the urging of the entertainment industry, to force any kind of file sharing app to put certain ridiculous restrictions on the app, such as requiring it to put up a big warning sign every time you use it for sharing files, and requiring the user to “consent” to use the software. Public Knowledge notes that the bill is back in action and going through the markup process, with little in the way of complaints or warnings from the many, many software developers this will impact. Public Knowledge outlines many of the problems with the bill:
- Legislating Software Design: The bill is aimed at a specific technology and kind of application instead of simple non-tech-focussed consumer protection and disclosure principles. Instead it’s aimed at legislating the design and workings of common software. It’s the exact kind of thing that has all kinds of unintended and unforeseeable consequences.
- Over / Under Inclusive Definition: No matter how narrow the definition of “covered file-sharing program” may seem, it’s going to include more and less than is intended or desirable. Over inclusive: bill would include basic operating systems like Windows 7 and Mac OS X that enable file sharing; iTunes shares media files as well. Under inclusive: bill would not include applications that simply upload the entirety of a user’s hard drive to the web.
- “Initial Activation” Needs Clarification: The amendment, just like the previous bill, requires the software to notify the user at installation and “initial activation of a file sharing function.” The problem remains that there are a number of interpretations of what this means, here are three: A. The first time an application is installed and launched; B. Every time the application is launched; or C. Every time the feature is enabled. Unless the language is made clear, developers not wanting to incur penalties will err on the side of notice, which means the most notifications.
Applies to Software Already Written: Software that has already been written and is still being distributed, but not maintained by a developer or manufacturer may fall prey to the provisions of this bill. Unless otherwise exempted, this would require developers to update their older software at great cost, unless they wanted incur penalty of law.
Interferes with User and Administrator Choice: This bill would require a fundamental change in how much software operates. Users, especially system administrators, make informed choices about the applications that will meet their needs — especially those that “just run” without user interaction. In many cases, how an application installs, launches, and operates behind the scenes is part of their decision, and this bill would interfere with how they run their systems.
This bill is bad news, and it’s yet another attempt by the entertainment industry to get Congress to start slapping specific restrictions on any software it doesn’t like.