1st Nov 2005

Posted in

Blog :: Tail wagging a dog

I continue to learn good lessons about blogging. One of these lessons is never to promise to write more. Another lesson is that as powerful as the promise of expressing myself clearly is to motivate me to write, having the metawife out-blog (and out-traffic?) me is an even more powerful motivation! :)

A good part of my hiatus lately has been that I'm writing a lot, actually (I'm also working too much, but that's another story). You'll have a long essay to read here in a bit and maybe I can go back to formulating my thoughts in more bite sized chunks...

Tonight, however, courtesy of slashdot I had my blood pressure raised by this article at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Go read the whole thing, by all means, but the synopsis is essentially that the Entertainment Cartel in this country is once again attempting to write the rules to benefit themselves. The MPAA wants to close the "Analog Hole"; ie, they want any consumer analog video input device (think here your VCR or TiVo or the TV card in your computer) to be mandated to comply with a couple of different copy restriction technologies. Essentially, the MPAA wants the hardware manufacturers to make you ask the MPAA before translating any video from analog form to digital form.

Now there are lots of reasons why this is bad for the consumer. Want to copy your old home movies from VHS to a DVD? You literally might not be able to do that with "consumer" (ie, popular and cheap) equipment. Want to record the local sports team's TV broadcast onto your laptop so you can watch it on the road? You may not be able to do that anymore either. (Both of these actions are absolutely legal under existing law. Both of them would continue to be legal under the laws the MPAA wants to pass, it's just that it would be illegal to make hardware that allowed you to do either one.) Even more than the reduction in rights that digital consumers can currently exercise, however, is the sense of entitlement that drives the Entertainment industry to try by force of law to mandate what products people in other industries can make. This is a case of the tail desperately trying to wag the dog: the entertainment industry is free to provide products that depend upon DRM and other copy protection schemes and consumers are free to support (or not) hardware that complies with the various attempts to force the digital world to resemble the analog one. Consumers, of course, tend to prefer more capable hardware over the deliberately crippled; and herein lies the entertainment companies request for legislative "relief". After all, as everyone knows, if people won't buy things the way you want to sell them, the solution is to use the government to deprive them of choices.

The sheer unmitigated gall that the Copyright Cartels display, in fact, is what has lead me in the past to say that I support compulsory licensing of movies and music in digital form. This goes against my libertarian instincts, but sometimes seems the only way to effectively slap down the over-reaching grab for power that apparently constitutes the sole strategy that the MPAA & RIAA can get through their collective half a brain. The EFF, by contrast, seems to think that voluntary licensing still has a chance. Read this and wish that it were so. As for me, I suspect that a mandatory licensing scheme (which has the virtue of not depending upon the intelligence of the Entertainment Cartel for adoption) is a more realistic outcome.

Posted on Nov 1st 2005, 10:19 PM