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.comment: Bought and Paid For

The SSSCA: It's Nothing Personal

  • October 3, 2001
  • By Dennis E. Powell

The future of Linux may lie to some small extent in the hands of a race baiter in the pocket of companies who do not wish us well.

Before I get into the particulars about Sen. Ernest "Fritz" Hollings, Democrat of South Carolina, let me complete my introduction by justifying the above statement. It was Hollings, governor of South Carolina from 1958 to 1962, who raised the Confederate flag over the state house there as the civil rights struggle was heating up; since that time he has let fly references to "wetbacks" and "darkies." Last year, when there was considerable contention about the Confederate flag, Senator Hollings, he lay low. He has also signed on to a number of civil rights bills in his 35-year Senate career, when it became politically expedient to bait that side of the racial equation. He is a reliable weather vane, subject like the flag to the wind direction of the moment.

So when the possibility arises that Hollings is introducing legislation that could make Linux illegal, we should note that his paymasters are probably behind it, and that it isn't as if it's personal -- or even that he's given a moment's thought to it.

Hollings is the putative author of the Security Systems Standards and Certification Act, which is fundamentally a piece of feel-good legislation designed to keep the deep pockets happy.

When I say "feel-good legislation," I mean it follows a long line of laws enacted to impart the impression that the legislators are doing something while in Washington and not back home tending their shops and farms as the founding fathers intended. We see it all the time. When there is a notable shooting, legislators rush to make guns in the hands of criminals even more illegal, disregarding that if laws entered into it, the shooter wouldn't have been shooting in the first place. No matter what happens, there is someone in Congress ready to rush forth with some dimwitted legislative "solution" that will accomplish nothing. This effect is even more pronounced when the legislation is requested, perhaps in a note with a $50 bill wrapped around it and the sly suggestion that there's more where that came from.

In this case, the legislator has decided, with help from companies who have given him tens of thousands of dollars, that the copyright law is not sufficient; that the abominable Digital Millennium Copyright Act is not enough; and that instead it must be made impossible to undertake such acts as might deprive these companies -- Microsoft, by the way, is into Hollings for $6,000 -- of every penny they can get. Like all such legislation, it presumes that everyone would be a criminal, given the chance.

This monstrous abuse of legislative power arises from the popularity of digital content including, chiefly, motion pictures and music. But it applies to all digital devices and content, including PCs and software. And therein lies the rub insofar as Linux is concerned. The bill, if passed, would not just preserve copy protection and make its removal illegal -- it would actually forbid anything that isn't copy protected, according to some readings; it is as difficult to clearly follow as it is to follow the marble-mouthed Hollings when he speaks.

Chances are good that Hollings is interested chiefly in the movie and music aspects of his little law, based on his record. He's worked hard to scuttle high-definition television and is the leading recipient of money from the industry, including funds from Fox, who was joined in opposition by, guess who, Microsoft Corporation, whose set-top interactive software wouldn't work with HDTV.

A listing of the senator's campaign contributions reveals that the money has poured in from the motion picture and music industries: $33,500 from AOL-Time Warner; $28,224 from News Corp. (parent of Fox); $22,000 from the National Association of Broadcasters; $18,500 from Disney; $16,632 from CBS; and tens of thousands of dollars more from the law firms that represent additional interests who have business before the Commerce, Science, and Technology Committee that he chairs. (You might rightly wonder why there is even such a thing as the Commerce, Science, and Technology Committee.)

Lest it be thought that the whoring is limited to the Democrat side of the aisle, please note that the ranking Republican on the committee, John "Campaign Finance Reform" McCain somehow was able to swallow hard and accept $49,349 from Microsoft, in addition to $32,375 from AOL-Time Warner (which was only his 20th-largest contributor).

Which is to say, it looks as if the fix is in.

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