Cripple all those email clients to conform to law

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Andy Oram
Mar. 13, 2002 05:13 AM

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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 Since I don't believe it has been archived anywhere (although it has been widely forwarded), I am reprinting it here in full.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:

Senators: <>
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.

Andy Oram is an editor for O'Reilly Media, specializing in Linux and free software books, and a member of Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility. His web site is