new buzzword nominee

26 June 2005, 6:39 pm

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Here’s an example: Your toddler’s taking her first steps, and you’re recording them with your video camera. There’s a TV on in the background, and as the tyke is staggering across the room, the TV screen enters the frame — and at that exact moment, your camera turns itself off, to prevent you making any authorized copy of the broadcast.

Here’s another: There are web sites with tips for making Adobe Acrobat reader start faster. Adobe could probably claim that disseminating those tips is a violation of its license agreement, and threaten those sites with civil action. If you’ve already downloaded the tips from the web site and saved them somewhere, it wouldn’t affect you — you’d still be able to access and benefit from the information.

But if the site had been created with content-controlled tools, and you were using a content-controlled computer, your permission to open the document you’d saved could be revoked the next time you turned your computer on.

One more: What if Enron had been able to flag any potentially incriminating or damaging communication for automatic deletion?

These examples aren’t science fiction or paranoid fantasies; they’re logical and reasonable extrapolations from current technology and recent trends in legislative and judicial decisions.

Worse, under the provisions of the PATRIOT Act, these effects wouldn’t necessarily be limited to information that was inconvenient for a given corporate entity. If a document critical of administration policy was determined to give “aid and comfort” to enemy combatants, the government might have the ability to retroactively mark every copy of that document un-openable. Evidence of governmental wrongdoing could also potentially be suppressed with an efficiency beyond George Orwell’s darkest dreams.

Another important aspect of forthcoming content control techniques is that they will (for the first time) use integrated hardware and software. That means that you may not be able to avoid content control (for example) by avoiding Microsoft Windows, because your Macintosh (or Linux) computer will still be using a computer chip that incorporates content control. Many manufacturers are already shipping chips with support for content control hardware. And attempting to bypass the content control — for any reason — will be a criminal act.

I think this all sounds pretty bad even if it works exactly as its supposed to. But software and hardware are almost never bug free. So it’s virtually guaranteed that at least some people, some of the time, are going to find that content they should be able to use has been deemed inaccessible. They’ll either need to do without, or go through the time and effort to find an authorizing party and convince them that rights to use the content should be reinstated.

continued. . .

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2 comments on “new buzzword nominee”

  1. 2fs

    Thanks - I certainly hope these ideas are being expressed in venues more broadly read than people’s blogs (and if they’re not, you might consider submitting this to such media for publication).

    On to the quibbling: you wrote, “Still, I don’t think stealing their [the music or movie industries’] content with no remuneration is, or should be, acceptable.” One problem is (as you’re aware) defining exactly who the “their” is in your sentence, and which content, which aspects of that content, can properly be regarded as “theirs.” It ain’t stealing if it belongs to you - and it ain’t theft if what’s “stolen” isn’t yours. In other words, arguably some rights and content currently claimed by the music industry aren’t properly theirs, and properly belong to (say) the musicians, or the consumers. Copy-protected CDs that don’t play on home computers or car stereos are a good example: if someone finds a way to defeat such protection and rip the CD for one’s own personal use, even if the law claims such usage is “theft,” I’d argue that it shouldn’t be. This is particularly true when the CD has no notification about its content control - or the vendor (such as an online service) fails to inform its consumers that a particular CD has content control (even if the CD itself provides such notice).

    Of course, the fact that one party has misappropriated something for itself doesn’t simplify whether corrective actions against that misappropriation are legit: James Jamerson’s heirs may indeed be ethically entitled to huge chunks of Berry Gordy’s money, but that doesn’t mean they’re right to break into Gordy’s mansion and waltz off with his jewelry.

  2. summervillain

    (and if they’re not, you might consider submitting this to such media for publication).

    The issues are well-covered in venues like Slashdot and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, but they preach to the converted. I pitched a story to Punk Planet, who passed on it. I’m open to other suggestions. I have a couple of attributable sources, but my most important source prefers anonymity.

    One problem is (as you’re aware) defining exactly who the “their” is in your sentence, and which content, which aspects of that content, can properly be regarded as “theirs.”

    For the purposes of this discussion, I don’t even want to get into debating whether or not musicians should retain the rights to their own work. Barring major intellectual property reform (which I think is highly unlikely in the current climate), in the short term corporate interests are going to remain the legal (if not moral) rightsholders for virtually all mainstream content. My primary concern is that, as citizens, we should not allow the enactment of laws (or allow technologies to be mandated) that curtail fundamental rights of democracy. (And in the case, minimally, of DMCA Section 1201 and certain provisions of the PATRIOT Act, I think it’s imperative that laws that already do so are either struck down or amended.)

    If you defeat content control to play a CD on a home computer, you’re not committing theft, but you are violating Section 1201 of the DMCA — that’s criminal, not civil code. (And at the moment, it doesn’t matter whether that use is non-infringing.)

    I do think “theft” — or if you prefer, “fraud” — is a reasonable term to apply to the unauthorized acquisition and/or distribution of content. I don’t think it matters that no tangible physical good is transferred, or that there is no physical value of a single “copy.” If you prefer, you can think of it as fraudulent access to a service: like printing a bogus ticket to an event, rather than like shoplifting a book.

    Another thing that perplexes me about trying to discuss this rationally is that many of the people who advocate awareness of these issues also suggest that it’s okay to violate the copyright of corporate interests — whether because they’re unfair businesses, or because the content is of poor quality, or because the business add no value, or because they can’t stop people from copying their content, or because all copyright should be abolished, or whatever. I need to discriminate myself from these positions, which I would characterize (at least in the short term) as extremist.


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