Boing Boing: House introduces mandatory radio-crippling law

Locked-up radio

Cory Doctorow (Boing Boing: House introduces mandatory radio-crippling law) brings the news that:

“Rep. Mike Ferguson (R-N.J.) has introduced a bill to cripple all digital radios. The Audio Broadcast Flag Licensing Act of 2006 (H.R. 4861) requires all digital radio makers to build their devices so that they only permit “customary uses” of broadcasts… it requires radio device makers to cripple their products to prohibit “unauthorized copying” – which is a lot more broad than “illegal copying.” As we’ve heard, the RIAA’s position is that no copying is implicitly authorized – they don’t even think you should be allowed to rip your CDs.”

Now, while this wouldn’t directly affect us in the UK or Europe, the knock-on effects would certainly be felt. How long before the same thinking (if not the exact same letter of the law) becomes prevalent here?

As I see it, there are three main things we should be worred about with this type of ‘initiative’:

    – By defining so explicitly (and arbitrarily) what a ‘radio’ is, and what it can and can’t do, legally, it is inevitably going to stifle the opportunities for innovation that come from designers and technologists (often inspired by hobbyists’ mods) extending and breaking product boundaries, creating new features and finding new ways to use content. (If it were not for this kind of innovation, there would never have been digital radios, or any radios, in the first place).
    – As a corollary, it preserves in legally-enforced aspic the current business model of those lobbying for such a law, whilst denying future innovators and entrepreneurs the opportunities to develop their own, different business models, hence leading to monopolistic dominance of the sector by the existing players.
    – Finally, it’s simply a lousy deal for the consumer, which should surely never be the intention of any responsible designer. As a consumer, I want to be able to do as much as possible with any device I purchase. I want to maximise my utility, and the market should be free to allow that.

As Cory puts it,

“No constituent of Ferguson’s woke up this morning wishing for a way to do less with her radio. There’s no manufacturer who can sell more radios by advertising “Now! With fewer features!” This is a bill to steal from tomorrow’s entrepreneurs, who’ll never get to invent the next generation of awesome music tech, in order to line the pockets of yesterday’s recording industry fatcats.”

I’d also quote Isambard Kingdom Brunel, who (on the idea of government prescribing regulations for bridge design) said, in 1847:

“In other words, embarrass and shackle the progress of improvements of tomorrow by recording and registering as law the prejudices and errors of today”.


  1. Oracle

    Yet another excelent Anti-RIAA article… now if only someone would write an anti-house-appropriations comittee article.

  2. Steve

    Odd. I turn my radio on. I listen to it. I turn it off when I’m done. Works for me.

  3. Dan

    Well yeah. That’s what I’ve often thought about the TV licence we have in Britain (enforced mainly by intimidation and FUD tactics). A TV works fine without one, so why get one?

    But the issue here is that the future design and technology directions of a consumer product are being arbitrarily dictated by expressly anti-competitive legislation which offers no value to consumers, and threatens to restrict opportunities for future innovation.

    It will mean is that there’s yet another product which requires hacking to open up features which the users desire, and would pay for, but are denied by a system which panders to the influence of a few important groups.

  4. Duckncover

    It’s pathetic!

    Most of the shows on radio you can’t get any other way than to record them. Just what you expect of US.

    Following this methodology may be they should ban guns instead of just the use of them.

  5. NAR

    If you want to help defeat Mike Ferguson in the election this fall, please visit Dump Mike to learn more about his votes, issues and out-of-the-mainstream positions. We’re a grassroots organization working to change the United States Congress through local community action and education.

  6. Tracy Eckels

    Tonight I watched a program on the Science Channel about the space shuttle Columbia explosion. Its incredible that the final report of the presidental investigation simply blames the “O” rings, the exact thing that the engineers at Morton-Thiecal were screaming about months before the launch. Yet before the launch, the engineers were heard, and then overruled by managers more concerned about schedules and upcoming contracts.

    The problem with technology isn’t the engineers, it’s the managers, the politicans, the idiots that have no idea how it works, and therefore choose to strangle it rather than let it flourish.
    Technology needs to be taken out of the hands of the managers. Managment decisions should be made by engineers. If the engineers had been listened to back in 1985, those seven Astronaughts might not have died.

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  9. Sungki Hong

    It now seems almost impossible for people to create new products without having to limit its potential.

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