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Safety in technology

Buried deep in the WIPO database treaty is a provision to ban copyright-cracking technology that opponents say could make PCs and correction fluid illegal.

Buried deep in the bureaucratic language of the World Intellectual Property Organization's database treaty is a provision to ban copyright-cracking technology that opponents say could make everything from computers to correction fluid illegal.

Article 10 of the organization's database treaty makes it illegal to import, manufacture, or distribute technology that defeats copyright-protection devices. Companies that manufacture security products say the treaty provision would make copyrighted material immune from attack and eliminate the need for further regulation.

PRO: Proponents of the treaty proposal to ban copyright-cracking technology say it will stop criminals who intentionally break protection devices to steal copyrighted material. They say companies that manufacture protection devices need the law to ensure the viability of their products.  
CON: Opponents of the treaty article say any technology should be legal if it has any legitimate uses. They say the scope of the proposal is too broad, banning "protection-defeating" devices ranging from encryption to PCs and possibly even making the engineers who test them criminals.
But cyber-liberties groups that oppose the entire treaty have taken issue with the article, saying its definition of "protection-defeating devices" is far too broad. Even the engineers who test such products by cracking them could be considered criminals under the treaty, opponents say, and PCs might be illegal because computers could be used on many levels to break copyright-protecting devices.

"The real danger in it is that reverse-engineering is one of the best ways that security is ensured," said staff attorney Shari Steele of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a civil liberties organization. She and others say that code-cracking devices should remain legal as long as they are shown to have some legitimate use.

Nevertheless, companies that produce copyright-protecting technology have arrived in force at the Geneva negotiations, touting their products as the ultimate solution against software piracy.

A report by the Information Technology Association of America maintains strongly that security technology, not policy, is the answer to copyright protection and piracy prevention. Software publishers and other content providers should shield their property before releasing it to the Net with a growing number of secure products:

DICE's Argent is a system that integrates a hidden "digital watermark" within a digital image, video, or audio recording. The watermark is read by computers and contains the names of the original owner and legal copy owners.
IBM's Cryptolope Containers are encrypted electronic envelopes that contain documents and bear usage rules.
The World Wide Web Consortium's Digital headers label Internet content, including property rights usage.
ARIS Technologies' MusiCode protects music or video with a watermark that inserts inaudible copyright information within products.

Richard Gastwirt, director of marketing for ARIS, said MusiCode supports the treaty's proposed ban on protection-breaking devices.

"It's in each of the companies, such as ours, best interest to favor [Article 10] because our product MusiCode is useless if it can be defeated lawfully or unlawfully. If it can be done, it will be done," he said. "I don?t see any dangers in it. It seems that with technology, just to stay one step ahead, you need some legislation on your side."

Steele, however, said the treaty wouldn't stop criminals from circumventing protection systems, but would instead prevent the creation of encrypted material and stunt the development of more sophisticated technology.

"It's very common for companies and individuals to try to figure out how a product works by trying to crack them," she said. "There would be a problem with that with this law." 

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