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The week in review: Quit copying

If you've ever taped a "Seinfeld" episode or traded music online, Uncle Sam may want you to stop. Draft legislation is taking a harder stance on copyright protection.

If you've ever taped a "Seinfeld" episode or traded music online, Uncle Sam may want you--to stop.

Draft legislation that is winding its way through Congress would sharply limit Americans' rights relating to copying music, taping TV shows and transferring files through the Internet. The first part of their proposal, which would limit backup copies, has drawn objections from academics and nonprofit groups that have reviewed it.

Under current copyright law, Americans who record a TV program or radio segment generally may "sell or otherwise dispose of" that analog recording or digital file as they wish.

The proposed bill would end that exemption, handing copyright owners substantial new control over the distribution of their works by curtailing a consumer's right to copy material under a doctrine known as "fair use."

Another salvo in the copyright battle was delivered when a federal judge said that record labels and film studios could expand an ongoing copyright lawsuit to include Sharman Networks, which distributes the popular Kazaa software.

The Recording Industry Association of America and the Motion Picture Association of America last October sued three prominent file-swapping companies in Los Angeles federal court. The suit named Morpheus parent StreamCast Networks, Grokster and Kazaa BV, the Netherlands-based company that originally created the Kazaa software.

However, in February, Kazaa BV sold the Kazaa file-swapping software to Sharman, a company later revealed to be based in Vanuatu, a small island in the South Pacific. The recording and movie industry trade groups asked permission to add that company to the lawsuit in June. A judge ruled this week that Sharman could be added to the lawsuit.

Shoring up U.S. security
Computer security is becoming increasingly critical to President Bush's proposal for a homeland defense department. When Bush formally proposed the department last month, he never mentioned the Internet or so-called cybersecurity.

But as Capitol Hill scrutinizes the proposal, politicians are fretting about tech-savvy terrorists--and insisting any new agency must shield the United States from electronic attacks as well. House Republicans have asked committees for any suggested changes to the White House-backed bill by the end of the week.

Included in the proposal are radical changes for the U.S. government's Internet defenses. The plan would stitch together nearly all computer protection functions, from the Commerce Department's Critical Infrastructure Assurance Office to the Computer Security Division of the National Institute of Standards and Technology to the Federal Computer Incident Response Center.

Additionally, the proposed department is likely to get its own privacy czar. A draft of the legislation seen by CNET News.com states that the Secretary of Homeland Security must appoint a privacy officer to ensure that new technologies "sustain and do not erode" privacy protections and to verify that the agency's massive databases operate within federal guidelines.

Who's running your computer?
Perhaps a more immediate security concern to individuals is what is going on now with their computers.

Apple Computer OS X users could let hackers piggyback malicious code on downloads from the company's SoftwareUpdate service. According to the BugTraq mailing list, a hacker named Russell Harding has posted full instructions for how to fool Apple's SoftwareUpdate feature to allow a hacker to install a backdoor on any Mac running OS X.

The exploit takes advantage of SoftwareUpdate, Apple's software updating mechanism in OS X, which checks weekly for new updates from the company. According to Harding, who claims to have discovered the exploit, the feature downloads updates over the Web with no authentication and installs them on a system. So far, there are no patches available for this problem.

Users of Microsoft's Internet Explorer, Outlook and Outlook Express applications may be vulnerable to a recently discovered software flaw that could leave their system open to malicious code carried on Web pages or in e-mails. A security researcher and partner at risk-assessment company PivX Solutions warned that HTML objects embedded in Web pages and e-mail could carry code that allows an attacker to check out victims' cookie files, read their documents and execute programs on their computer.

Still another problem is plaguing Outlook: A popular plug-in that lets users encrypt and digitally sign messages has inadvertently weakened security and left the mail program open to attack. Security company eEye Digital Security issued a warning late Wednesday to users of Network Associates' Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) plug-in for Outlook, saying that a vulnerability in the add-on could let attackers execute malicious software on a victim's computer.

Wi-Fi everywhere, but not everyone
One of the first cameras that can shuttle photos and videos using the Wi-Fi wireless networking technology has made its debut. IQinVision plans to sell the camera to companies such as security firms that need to put video cameras in places where wires can't go, or as a way to quickly install a temporary security system.

This product is among the first devices to combine digital videography and wireless LANs (local area networks) that use the Wi-Fi, or 802.11b, standard. Expect more digital camera makers to follow suit. The number of digital cameras has been on the rise, and it's only a matter of time before a camera maker wants to add a popular new technology like Wi-Fi.

Wi-Fi is also invading handheld devices. Wireless equipment maker Intersil is working with SyChip to incorporate 802.11b wireless networking technology into a Secure Digital (SD) card for handheld devices. The card, which should be available to manufacturers for testing in the fourth quarter, lets handheld owners add and remove wireless networking capabilities to handhelds that contain an SD slot from Palm, Hewlett-Packard and other companies.

Wireless SD cards would make it far easier for handheld manufacturers and owners to get these devices linked. Only a few handhelds include wireless capabilities, and they are some of the most expensive on the market. With the card, wireless access becomes an option for many.

Not everyone is pleased with the explosion in popularity of wireless networking. Broadband providers are cracking down on some customers, threatening to cut service to those who set up the inexpensive wireless systems and allow others to freely tap into their Internet access.

After being introduced just a couple of years ago, so-called Wi-Fi "hot spots" that tap into cable or digital subscriber lines (DSL) are now in at least 15 million homes and offices. The problem is that one paying subscriber can set up a local network that allows several other people to access the Net, for fun or for profit.

News.com special focus: China
As China's society changes and its education system matures, the country is becoming a major consumer and producer of computer products. And as the global recession leaves few fertile opportunities elsewhere, China has emerged as a primary target for foreign business. A News.com three-part special report examines the various reasons that this may eventually be known as China's high-tech century.

Also of note
Apple Computer plans to serve up a new iMac model with a larger flat-panel display during next week's Macworld Expo trade show...Microsoft joined the growing customer relationship management market by previewing its first CRM product...America Online has quietly been testing an update to its popular AOL Instant Messenger, using graphics to create personal looks reminiscent of Yahoo's chat features...Federal regulators deactivated hundreds of thousands of credit cards belonging to former customers of NextCard...IBM's hard drive business, which the company is selling to Hitachi, lost $515 million in the five most recent quarters...Yahoo reported its first profit in six quarters but found it difficult to assuage analysts' concerns about its core advertising business.

Want more? Check out all this week's News.com headlines.