Crashing the Party

Things are heating up in the battle over copyright law as it pertains to digital media and the Internet with Sony intentionally crashing the computers of those customers who have purchased copies of Celine Dion's new CD. Just to be clear, if you run a Windows or Macintosh computer, it will crash if you attempt to play a CD you have legally purchased from Sony's Epic label. This behavior is by design on Sony's part because, well, a crashed computer cannot make copies of a CD.

Michael Fraase has a fairly lucid description of recent attempts by the recording industry to protect copyrighted material. He notes that most of these attempts are in direct violation of the law which, among other things, allows copying music for personal use. In addition, attempts to copy protect CDs by altering the format are actually in violation U.S. patents held by Philips (now that's a patent to have).

And in other clear violations of common sense, Senator Fritz Hollings (D-South Carolina) and five other cohorts are sponsoring a bill which would have every piece of software or hardware which can possibly access copyrighted material (which is evey piece of software and hardware ever created including even portable CD players, cell phones, PDAs, modern TVs, etc.) rewritten from the ground up to incorporate copy protection.

Their intentions, of course, are nobel: they would like to protect the rights of those people who own intellectual property (IP). However, it seems that such legislation is unenforceable as most countries in the world do not have the same view of IP as we do here in the US, never mind the laws to regulate IP so strictly. Given that the Internet is an international communications media, the software to copy IP will be accessed from anywhere. And since the law blatantly flies in the face of consumer demand and current consumer practices, it is probably safe to assume many people will resort to using illegal software.

More disturbing than this, however, is that the law could potentially cripple the technology industry, which though not currently the Wall Street darling, is essential to U.S. economic health. The shear time and money it would take to re-engineering all the software and hardware currently produced or in development would surely derail the industry.

As for the consumer, we can only hope that the Senator's have come up with a better method of copy protection than some of the brightest minds and companies in the Industry have given us so far. The prohibitive nature of current copy protection schemes, known as digital rights management (DRM), make the technology almost useless. For instance, if one were to make a backup of their data using a DRM enabled device, they could not view that data on another computer or even on the same computer it came from if you need to reinstall either the application itself or the operating system that the application runs on, completely defeating the purpose of backing up data in the first place.

It probably won't surprise anyone to find out that the bill is backed by companies and organizations like Disney, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), and News Corporation.

Meanwhile, a Senator who seems to understand technology, Rick Boucher (D-Virginia), is examining the legality of the music industry's copy protection schemes. Amusingly, he questions how exactly the MPAA can justify both copy protection schemes and extending the Copyright Act of 1976 to include all digital media, including CDs and DVDs. The Copyright Act charges the federal government with taxing and dispersing royalties on recordable media.

After all, if we can't copy IP protected CDs, then why exactly should we pay taxes every time we purchase a blank CD, much less pay the government to collect these taxes and redistribute them to the MPAA? Why should the MPAA get money if I want to backup a QuickBooks file to CD? It would seem that the MPAA would like to have their cake and eat it too.


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