2nd Sep 2005

Blog :: Copyright wars

I recently read Darknet, by J D Lasica (darknet blog here).  Darknet is basically about the copyright wars and I hope to have a full review soon (short review: Go read this book now!)  I have to be careful in delving too deeply into this issue; I tend to be a pretty even keeled individual, but almost anything related to the copyright wars seems to have the ability to make steam come out my ears.  Want to hear me rant and rave?  Ask me about the DMCA or the alleged DRM in the next version of Windws ("trusted" monitors, anyone?  Short story for the non-technically inclined: you will have to buy new hardware to watch the next generation of High Def video on your computer.  Not for technical reasons, but because the entertainment industry demands control of your hardware if you want to watch their content.)

Now everybody has their hot-button issues (don't ask my RN wife about the Vioxx case, for example :-) ).  Mostly though, people don't have the interest or the technical savvy to understand what's at stake in the copyright wars.  Typical conversations I have on this topic with non-geeks start and stop with questions of "piracy".  Well this is about to change.  Note the story in the Modesto Bee on August 17:

"CD burning is a problem that is really undermining sales," Bainwol said in a phone interview before addressing about 750 members of the National Association of Recording Merchandisers in San Diego on Friday.

"(Copy protection technology) is an answer to the problem that clearly the marketplace is going to see more of," he added.

North American album sales were down about 7 percent this year compared to a year ago, according to Nielsen SoundScan.

Yet, the recording industry has seen a lift from online music sales, which when factored in with album sales and sales of CD singles boost overall music sales through July to 21 percent over last year.

Now first note the stupid statements about copy protection: I guarantee that copy protected CD's will be trivially broken by serious pirates who are burning bootleg CD's. Copy protection on consumer's CD's is not designed primarily to prevent piracy: it is designed to maximize revenue for the recording industry by inconveniencing consumers. Want to make a backup copy of your CD (absolutely legal)? Want to make a copy for your car (also absolutely legal)? Want to rip your CD to MP3 to listen on you mp3 player? (also absolutely legal)? You may or may not be able to engage in these "fair use" activities in the future at the behest of the charitable impulses of the Recording Industry Association of America. Pardon me if I'm not exactly reassured. After all, the entertainment cartel in this country (RIAA and MPAA) have repeatedly demonstrated an uncanny ability to oppose the consumer even when they could make money (See Jack Valenti's opinion on VCR's for example)! Case in point: see that second note in the story? North American album sales are down 7% but overall sales are up 21% due to online music sales. Surely the recording industry can see where the trends are pointing and are doing everything they can to make sure online music sales continue!

Hah! I'm sorry, I really am. Think of this as me laughing with you, not at you. As per the recent slashdot story iTunes may lose the ability to sell songs owned by two of the major music studios. Why? They want to dictate new pricing models to iTunes and may pull their songs if they don't get their way. Note the pattern here: the record companies owe perhaps 28 percent of their overall sales to online sales (of which iTunes certainly represents the most public face) but are willing to stop selling their tracks through iTunes if they can't set the prices.

This is a pattern of behavior. I'm going to end this particular rant with a recommendation and two resources for further study. As much as it pains my libertarian instincts, I actually support government action. Specifically, I support the mandatory licensing of music for online sales. In a future post I'll explain what this is and why I think it's a good idea. In the meantime I'd like to leave you with two resources for further study. Call this homework, if you like. First, go . The link takes you to a page with a large flash movie composed of slides and an audio lecture by Larry Lessig about the copyright wars. Warning! This may radicalize your perspective on copyright issues! Then read Cory Doctorow's take on why Digital Rights Management is bad for all concerned. Read carefully - I may quiz you about the signifigance of piano rolls in the copyright wars. To be Continued...

Posted on Sep 2nd 2005, 12:19 AM