Cripple all those email clients to conform to law

by Andy Oram

The following email from the Free Software Law Discussion list can really bring home to every computer user how inane the SSSCA is. Since I don't believe it has been archived anywhere (although it has been widely forwarded), I am reprinting it here in full. Thanks, Ben Tilly!


Date: Fri, 1 Mar 2002 11:43:20 -0500

On Thursday, Feb 28, 2002 Senator Hollings lead a hearing on
his proposed Security Systems Standards and Certification
Act, known as the SSSCA.

The problem, as Mike Godwin said at
is that Congress doesn't understand the technical issues
involved. So we must find examples of those technical
issues in contexts that they understand.

Email makes a good example. Most people are familiar with
it, and it shows the relevant copyright issues.

I am sending you an email. If you like it, you might
forward it to a friend with a brief comment added. You
might send it back to me with corrections made. You might
copy phrases out of it to put into a report or memo. It
might, as with the message I linked, find its way onto a
website on the Internet.

By the act of writing you this email, I have a copyright on
my words. In these common tasks you have redistributed,
modified, and taken away my attribution. Under the SSSCA
the software cannot be allowed to let you do that because
the software is failing to protect my copyright. According
to Hollywood and Senator Hollings, you would be a pirate and
criminal for abusing my copyrighted material. Under
existing copyright law your actions might infringe, or might
be fair use. Mostly it is fair use.

So how would the SSSCA solve the problem of your using email
as it was designed and intended to be used? Very simply, it
would make your email program illegal. The software must be
rewritten. Once rewritten it cannot contain a "forward"
button. It cannot allow you to copy and paste text from
it. It cannot allow you to create a reply with my words
included. It cannot allow you to send mail to existing
email programs because they don't implement copyright
protection. According to the good Senator, only pirates and
criminals would want to do any of these things. My
copyrighted content MUST be protected from criminals and
pirates like you.

Email is but one kind of program that is affected. (Do not
be fooled. The phrase they use may be "digital device", but
their definition of a digital device includes virtually all
software programs.) Our lives are filled with electronic
content that we produce, transfer, and manipulate. Whether
you paste from one Word document to another or copy a
spreadsheet, features you use can violate copyrights.
Therefore Senator Hollings wants to ban your software.

They call this the Security Systems Standards and
Certification Act. They claim it is meant to protect poor
copyright holders (like me) from criminals and pirates (like
you). I call this the complete dismantling and destruction
of our computer infrastructure. Please let your
representatives know what you call it. You can find their
contact information as follows:


Congress: <>


Ben Tilly

PS Your email software has not (yet) been crippled in accord
with the proposed SSSCA. Please feel free to use it to
forward this message.

Would the SSSCA really have such far-reaching effects?