On Ed Felten’s blog, a new bill introduced in the House of Representatives that once again overreaches itself in a serious way trying to protect the content middlemen: the Author, Consumer, and Computer Owner Protection and Security (ACCOPS) Act of 2003. The bill states that to knowingly offer “enabling software,” defined as software that, “when installed on the users’ computer, enables third parties to store data on that computer, or use that computer to search other computers’ content over the Internet,” and not to warn of the privacy implications and offer the user a chance to opt out, may result in a fine or jail time.
I perhaps overreach in ascribing an RIAA or MPAA agenda to this bill. It could easily be interpreted as a consumer protection act against “spyware” and viruses (not that we really need consumer protection against virus software; existing laws have proved pretty capable of handling them). However, Felten correctly points out that the language is so broad that a download of Microsoft Windows could be covered under the bill, while the original Napster client, “lacking upload and network search facilities,” would not be covered.
It would save us all a lot of time if the folks writing these bills would get the help of someone other than whoever’s pockets they happen to be in before introducing them. Then maybe we could together work out a consensus definition of “bad technology” that’s a little more precise.