Michael Tiemann is the chief technical officer of Red Hat, the top dog among U.S. Linux distro-and-service vendors. Columnist Paul Coe Clark III sat down with him yesterday at the Future of Music Coalition Policy Summit 2002 at Washington’s Georgetown University, where he was defending open-source software against what he sees as the encroaching control of copyright holders, particularly in the music and movie industries.
Tiemann, a co-founder and 10-year veteran of Cygnus Solutions, battled the forces of increased legal and technical copyright protection in a panel dubbed “The Copyright Bargain” — a recognition that, in American law, copyright has always been a balance between the rights of copyright holders and the public. He talked with us about the much-criticized Digital Millennium Copyright Act, the SSSCA (an even-more-so draft bill by Sen. Fritz Hollings (D-S.C.)), and the Dmitry Sklyarov case, in which a Russian programmer was charged under the DMCA for creating a program that could crack the weak encryption of Adobe software. We also grilled him on the future of Linux.
Q: Do you think the copyright panel evoked a fair description of the current balance between copyright holders and the public?
A: I think Bruce Lehman [former assistant secretary of commerce in the Clinton Administration, now with the International Intellectual Property Institute] was being very disingenuous, going all the way back to the Constitution, when the issue was the DMCA. The DMCA criminalizes the discovery and ways of working around problems one might find in software, and the draft SSSCA criminalizes even talking about it.
What the DMCA does with the anti-circumvention machinery kind of ties your hands in getting access to information. The SSSCA goes a step further and says it’s absolutely required to install anti-circumvention on copyrighted digital works.
The logical extreme is that it would be illegal to produce any digital media that couldn’t be controlled. I think there are places in the world where governments would find that attractive. I don’t think the U.S. should be one of them.
Q: What is Red Hat’s involvement with the DMCA/SSSCA? Is it actively lobbying?
A: Our general counsel, Mark Webbink, has made many trips to Washington to educate legislators on the dangers that the DMCA and the draft SSSCA pose to our business.
Q: What are those dangers?
A: Linux is an open-source operating system whose community has grown through the ability to circulate and modify software. If our software were required to implement a government-mandated security system, many would see that as an invasion of their privacy.
Q: What about cases like the Sklyarov case, where the DMCA was invoked even though there was no indication of piracy by the software designer?
A: There’s a good parody of the DMCA online, satirizing it as the Digital Millennium Rape Act. Basically, the parody said certain members of the species had to have certain members amputated, because, as one senator put it, “If you have the tools, you break the rules.”
Q: What impact has the Sklyarov case had?
A: I think the Sklyarov case has shown the tip of the DMCA iceberg. The DMCA was presented as providing more access to content. Instead, they’ve gone back and asked for more controls. What the Sklyarov case shows is how a badly written law can be misapplied and justice miscarried.
Q: What’s the future of Red Hat in a time when Linux companies that had big IPOs are shaking out?
A: Our revenues put us solidly in the top of the Software 500 globally. We are the most successful public software company in North Carolina. The prospects for Linux have never been better. We’re bullish. That does not mean we don’t believe certain companies will do their best to trip us up.
I think there are six or eight analysts covering Red Hat. They say the hype has died down, the reality is before us, and that is that Red Hat is well capitalized to take advantage of its opportunities.
Q: But where are the emerging markets for Linux? It’s made impressive inroads into certain server markets, but almost none into the enterprise desktop — where will you get your growth?
A: It is certainly possible to be successful using Linux on the desktop, as I do, but from a commercial perspective, as long as there is a monopolist who continues to behave in a way that violates antitrust law, I don’t think there’s much hope for an alternative desktop.
The desktop market is not an exciting market. It has reached a point of saturation. The future is in post-PC devices — networked devices that allow pervasive computing.
Q: But Sun, for one, has predicted an eruption of such devices for years, and they’re slow coming.
A: Would you buy an embedded device from a company that couldn’t produce a cost-effective machine?
Q: Then who would you buy it from?
A: There is no monopoly on that market. That market is being created today.
Q: But is it?
A: I think that’s for you to judge. This is what I’m talking about [slaps down USA today story about large projected growths for Digital TVs, Home theater-in-a-box, videogame consoles, DVD players and satellite-TV receivers. In a chart, all show high projected growths, except for PCs. Tiemann taps the dismal PC projection] That is what I’m saying is dead.
The question is not whether the PC market is dead; it’s whether Microsoft has killed it.
Q: What’s your assessment of the status of the Microsoft antitrust case?
A: I think the hope is the states will prevail in the remedies they’re proposing. Right now, that’s the only hope.
Q: Given the current administration, how strong is that hope?
A: You’re closer to that than I am.
Q: Back to Linux. How big an issue is forking as distros multiply? How will it fare against other *NIXes?
A: Forking is a non-issue. When you look at the opportunity that is before us, the UNIX market is a multibillion-dollar market that is realizing that moving to Linux is a cost-effective solution.
Q: Do you see much chance of the open-source ethos moving further into the network from the computing world — especially the public network?
A: Absolutely. There isn’t a telephone switching company that isn’t evaluating how Linux can lower the cost of providing services and increase the value of the services they provide.
Q: Can you name any of them?
Q: What are Red Hat’s investment priorities?
A: I think it’s a build-up to meet the opportunity in the UNIX-to-Linux migration and embedded systems. Those are the two priorities.