Do you enjoy technology such as the VCR, TiVo, and the iPod? The People’s Republic of Neanderthals (a.k.a. Hollywood or “Big Content”) has reached in their bag of tricks to try to make sure that never again will such evil innovations rear their ugly heads. Enter the “Digital Content Protection Act of 2006” just introduced in the US Senate by Gordon Smith (R-Hollywood). From the EFF:
You say you want the power to time-shift and space-shift TV and radio? You say you want tomorrow’s innovators to invent new TV and radio gizmos you haven’t thought of yet, the same way the pioneers behind the VCR, TiVo, and the iPod did?
Well, that’s not what the entertainment industry has in mind. According to them, here’s all tomorrow’s innovators should be allowed to offer you:
“customary historic use of broadcast content by consumers to the extent such use is consistent with applicable law.”
Had that been the law in 1970, there would never have been a VCR. Had it been the law in 1990, no TiVo. In 2000, no iPod.
Here’s some excellent insight from Boing Boing about just how idiotic this is from a technological standpoint and how incredibly anti-free market (ironically from a Republican…the party that used to at least make believe that they supported free markets) this power grab by Big Content is:
The entertainment companies are convinced that their businesses depend on copy-proof bits. This is ridiculous: there’s no such thing, there never will be.
Governments that try to protect businesses that demand copy-proof bits are like governments that try to protect businesses on the sides of volcanoes, who demand an immediate end to business-disrupting lava.
Killing mainframes didn’t kill computers: it made them better. IBM was forced to get into the minicomputer business, which led to the personal computer.
If computer industry complaints got the same attention as the entertainment crybabies get from lawmakers, there’d be 10,000 computers total in the world, running punchcards, with three companies making modest sums servicing them and shipping a new model every three years.
Hollywood’s crybaby capitalists accuse us of being “communists” with one breath, and in the next, they go begging to Congress to turn the FCC into device czars who keep the market from being disrupted by innovation.
Andy Setos, the Fox executive who invented the Broadcast Flag, once told me that his objective was “a well-mannered marketplace.” The entertainment industry’s version of a planned economy is bad policy.
Ah yes, back to the good old day of Soviet-style centralized economic planning. I’ve just finished reading Bruce Schneier’s Secrets and Lies (which is recommended as an excellent overview of computer security for general readers if you’re interested). In the book, he talks about how companies try to compensate when they’re incompetent in their digital security. He uses Big Content as the textbook example. Rather than spending time to develop good security solutions to their problems, they’ve decided to lobby to create laws to compensate for their incompetence that have the end effect of attempting to put a lockdown on technological innovation.
It’s worth noting that this law is only ostensibly about piracy. It will do absolutely nothing to stop East Asian businesses built around piracy. What it will do is stifle innovations that would benefit US consumers. It will make it harder for US consumers to watch their legally purchased content on their legally purchased devices (to my knowledge, there isn’t even a way to legally transfer my DVDs to my iPod). But the crux of the matter is this will solidify Big Content’s grasp on an archaic economic system on which they’re at the top of the food chain. As this Ars Technica editorial puts it:
So, if you were planning to launch a startup and make millions off the coming digital broadcast media revolution by inventing the next iPod or by combining digital radio with Web 2.0 and VoIP and Skype and RSS and WiFi mesh networks, then forget about it. When digital broadcast nirvana finally arrives, the only people who’ll be legally authorized to make money off of music and movies are the middlemen at the RIAA and the MPAA.
Goodness knows they’re not out to benefit users as a Canadian politician in the pocket of Big Content accidentally revealed by referring to her opponents as “pro-user zealots”. That’s right, by simple logic, we can deduce that supporters of Big Content’s power grab are anti-user zealots.
What can you do? Well, for starters, the EFF has a nice form letter that you can fill out which will automatically be emailed to your Senators. If you like a world with VCRs, TiVos, and iPods and would like to see technological innovations along these lines to continue, I’d recommend filling it out.
But form letters only have so much power. Hit them where it hurts. Download your music from the Russian website Allofmp3.com. It’s legal (see here, here, here, and here). You can buy most songs there for around 10 cents instead of a dollar by cutting out the RIAA and DRM overhead. They have pretty much every CD available. You get the music without any DRM and can even choose your format and quality and have the music file generated on the fly. You can go through Paypal via Xrost, so there’s no concerns about the security of your credit cards. Unfortunately, there’s no way to directly get money to the artists. I guess this is just a casualty of the RIAA’s short-sightedness. If there was a way I could pay 20 cents per song and have that extra 10 cents go to the artist (equalling their iTunes profit), I would gladly do so. But of course, the RIAA would never allow the artists to get money in a way that cuts them out as a middle man.
All of this makes me wonder: what would happen if we lived in this scorched earth, apocalyptic scenario where the RIAA and MPAA ceases to exist? You know, the one where consumers and artists get to transact directly. The one where we don’t have a systematic Big Content marketing campaign to tell us what music and movies are “good”. The one where an artist’s work can become public domain once they die rather than using copyrights as a cash cow for the industry. One where a public domain actually exists (the US’s public domain was effectively killed off by the 1998 passage of theSonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act and the subsequent ruling of the Supreme Court upholding it as Constitutional). The one where people could purchase content and devices and move their content freely. The one where consumers aren’t treated like criminals. Man, good thing we have the RIAA and MPAA to save us from this!
Note: You have to be a resident of either Alaska, Arkansas, Arizona, California, Florida, Hawaii , Massachusetts, Maine, Mississippi, Montana, North Dakota, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Nevada, Oregon, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia, Washington, or West Virginia to use the EFF’s form letter (based on which Senators are currently assigned to the Senate Commerce Committee).