LET US START with an analogy. Suppose I go to a bookstore and plunk down full price for a copy of Jonathan Dee’s wonderful new book “Palladio.” Suppose I read it and think my friend Nancy would also like to read it. I give the book to Nancy, but, alas, she cannot read it. Marvelous new retinal scanning technology built into the book determines that my eyes are not reading it, and so the type in the book disappears. Only I can read my book. If Nancy wants to read “Palladio,” she has to pay full price for her own copy. Not only that: This retinal scanning technology is legally mandated. If anybody tries to find a work-around in order to read the book, that person is a criminal. Plus, the commission that created these draconian schemes held all its meetings in secret. Naturally, this law is called the Readers’ Protection Act. Of course that’s far-fetched — books are the old technology, and there’s just not that much money in them. But Sen. Fritz Hollings and five colleagues have proposed SB4028, the so-called Consumer Broadband and Digital Television Promotion Act, which may make any form of file sharing, even my sending my version of Otis Spann’s “Blues Is a Botheration” to my friend Nancy via the Internet, completely illegal. (It should be noted that Mr. Spann himself received virtually nothing for that recording; the music company that controlled it got the loot. This situation has changed, but not enough.) And yes, SB4028 does mandate that the standards committee conduct all its meetings in secret. THE REAL POWER behind the Hollings bill is the six companies that now control most of the media we consume every day, including music, movies and television. They are worried that their profits will be diminished, and, like King Canute by the seaside, they have stamped their little feet and demanded that information become a private commodity. According to Cindy Cohn of the Electronic Frontier Foundation: “The government is mandating what your technology has to do. The government’s now in some ways effectively writing code that anyone who makes anything with a microprocessor has to implement in anything they make. I’m unaware of any other requirement like that.” One charming aspect of the new law: If your DVD breaks and you want to play your copy of “The Matrix” on another machine, too bad. Won’t work. Amazing, huh? Here’s a true thing: Hackers are always smarter than the government. Whatever restrictions are in place, dedicated amateurs will find a work-around. These work-arounds are called “patches” and can be downloaded from the Web. AT THIS POINT, it is unclear how much damage file sharing (things like Napster and MP3.com) has actually done to music conglomerates. Just this year, EMI had to spend $28 million to buy Mariah Carey out of her $100 million contract. It also had extensive layoffs. It blamed file sharing. Yup, must have been that red-hot market in illicit Mariah Carey songs. But it is clearly a problem. The digital revolution redefined the nature of information. It made old copyright laws obsolete, and it made new ones hard to write. And yet, people who create art should get paid for it. If the conglomerates use the profits from the sale of the art to pay the artists, then that channel should be kept open. It requires new modes of thought, new ways of defining property rights. It does not require consumer-unfriendly legislation written by lobbyists for Fox and Disney. There are important ways in which a song is different from a plot of land; legislation should be written that takes account of that reality, or else we’ll all be buying our DVDs from bootleg distributors in Indonesia, one of your major lose-lose scenarios.