How to Fight the Super DMCA...
and Win

Douglas Barnes, EFF-Austin

       

Introduction

Understanding the Legislative Process

Building an Effective Anti-SDMCA Coalition

Participating in the Legislative Process

Working with the Media

Acknowledgements

   

Introduction

For at least three years, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) has promoted a series of bills throughout the country that claim to simply "update" existing theft of service legislation -- laws that outlaw things like getting cable TV without paying for it. Initially, these "Super DMCA" bills passed with little debate and no significant opposition.

In March of 2003, the technology activist community woke up to the threat that these new bills pose, not because of their stated intent, but because the bills:

  • give content providers unprecedented control over technology used at home and in business.
  • impose draconian criminal and civil penalties.
  • criminalize security research and "tinkering" with technology.

For those unfamiliar with the bills and their history, EFF and Public Knowledge have great web pages on the subject.

In Texas, we were fortunate enough to catch SB1116 in its early stages, and because of this we were able to fight the MPAA and their allies to a standstill.

This document is based on the experience our grassroots coalition gained in working to fight the Texas version of the Super DMCA (SDMCA), and from talking to others who have been involved in similar efforts in other states. Where opposition has been weak, divided, or non-existent, the bills have passed. In states with coordinated grassroots and industry opposition, bills have been withdrawn, defeated, or delayed indefinitely.

You can be a citizen lobbyist

Ordinary citizens who care about issues can make an enormous difference, sometimes just by showing up.

In Texas, before organized opposition of any sort had gelled, and with no advance notice, Adina Levin and I dashed off to a surprise hearing of the bill by the House Regulated Industries Committee. We ultimately provided the only significant opposition testimony at one in the morning. The committee was ready to pass the bill out of committee that night, but our testimony forced the committee members to face up to what was actually in the bill. Even the chair and the member championing the bill realized there were enough problems to prevent it from passing that night. This bought enough time to assemble a broad-based coalition that eventually succeeded in getting the bill repeatedly amended and delayed until time ran out on the session.

The intended reader of this document is someone who would like to make a difference when this bill comes to his or her state. The motion picture industry lobby has vowed to introduce bills in forty (40) states over the next year, and while this may represent a certain degree of hubris on their part, it's clear that they will be active in a significant number of additional states and it will be necessary to quickly form local opposition coalitions.

Like you, before that committee meeting last April, I was a complete newcomer to the state legislative process, and had no idea how to be a "citizen lobbyist." Adina and I were fortunate to have the patient coaching of Kathy Mitchell, of Consumers Union and the ACLU -- without her, we would have been sunk. This document is a pale substitute for her patient tutelage; any particularly wise insights are certainly due to her influence, and any flaws are solely my own.

I hope you find this helpful in fighting the Super DMCA in your state.