Lawmakers Writing Software Again


From a true friend of freedom, Ed Felten, comes word that California's attempt to regulate p2p networks has morphed into a requirement that net-ware include copyright and porn filters.

Felten points out all kinds of practical problems with the bill's language, just one being that it assumes that software hawkers somehow control the underlying architecture of the product. Not in this world.

Then there's the clumsy attempt at defining the "primary purpose" of software yet unknown, as Felten notes:

A program's author may have one purpose in mind; a distributor may have another purpose in mind; and users may have a variety of purposes in using the software. Of course, the software itself can't properly be said to have a purpose, other than doing what it is programmed to do. Most P2P software is programmed to distribute whatever files its users ask it to distribute. Is purpose to be inferred from the intent of the designer, or from the design of the software itself, or from the actual use of the software by users? Each of these alternatives leads to problems of one sort or another.

Isn't someone in Sacramento the least bit embarrassed by this stuff?

NEXT: Colorful Journey to Nowhere

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  1. Thanks for posting that, Mr. Taylor. Now I’m confused and so am I.

  2. Is purpose to be inferred from the intent of the designer, or from the design of the software itself, or from the actual use of the software by users?

    And then think of it like this:

    Is purpose of government to be inferred from the intent of the designers, or from the design of the government itself, or from the actual use of the government by users? Or from the actual use of government by the government itself?

  3. Both Google and Yahoo — among others — are located in CA. This would have undesirable business consequences for them.

    Most likely, it will force California’s biggest employers to seek a new state, taking a lot of tax revenue with them. Did any of these geniuses think of that?

  4. I should point out that the actual language of the bill would ban most Instant Messenger software, and “peer to peer” is an unusually broad term.

    TCP/IP port transmission is apparently well beyond their grasp.

  5. kmw,

    If driving business out of the state were an issue for CA legislators, much of the last 10 years of legislative history would have been quite different.

    They make it clear, every session, that they don’t care about driving businesses away — that, in fact, they *want* to do so.

    Or perhaps they believe that businesses in CA are kind of like natural resources; they’re just *there*, and that’s the way it is. As more and more movie and television production leaves SoCal for other, more friendly locations, and as more and more high-tech businesses relocate away from the Bay, CA legislators are left in a kind of panicked confusion. “But… movies… internet… We thought they were forever, and we could tax and burden them ad infinitum!”

  6. Thank God, someone’s finally thinking of the children.

    File-sharing software isn’t much more than a daemon or two fetching files of name such-and-such, and transferring them. So now, they want the daemon to somehow open and scan the file before transfer? Um, so then, you’ve somehow got to build into the software the ability to open and read any format of file that a user might transfer? Because file transfer doesn’t take long enough already, let’s make it poke along on the geologic time scale? And oh, yeah…which discerning public servant/flunkie gets to decide what’s porn and what’s not? Gaaahh.

    Holy privacy invasion, Batman. Like hell! I’d say, “Gee, at least I don’t live in California,” except that I live in WA, which is trying as hard as it possibly can to grow up just like its big sister to the south, and regulate people to death.

  7. zeroentitlement,

    You probably don’t want to mention the word “daemon” around the legislators. They might take it literally and ban all the “evil, atheist, satan-worshipping” software out there. Yes, I know it’s the long established, correct word, but remember the flap about master/slave drives a couple of years back? Bleeaaaahh :-p

  8. A couple of years back, Shawn?!? I only wish! I write for Willie Wonka’s Giant Software Factory here in WA, and every time some new guy in Legal/Compliance spots “subordinate (also called slave) servers” in my text, I get to participate in an e-mail thread a mile long trying to convince the poor slob that we’ve been there and done that. I also took some completely ad hoc heat from a black co-worker when she spotted the term in one of my manuals. This is where you have to resist the urge to sputter, “Yes, yes! You’ve caught me! I’m out! I’m really a white supremacist, trying to connect secretly with all my White Power buddies out there in UNIX land!”

    Ooops, I’ve veered slightly OT.

  9. <offtopic>


    Gosh, I’m sorry I brought it up. I thought it (Master/Slave) had blown over. My bad. But thanks for the chuckle, anyway. I’m amused only because I don’t work for a company that anal (yet). I wonder if the offended black coworker would think “Eunuchs land” if you actually did sputter.


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