Friday, June 16, 2006

Death by DMCA

Fred Von Lohmann and Wendy Seltzer have a great article in the June 2006 edition of the IEEE's Spectrum magazine.

"In 1998, U.S. entertainment companies persuaded Congress to make dramatic changes in its copyright code by passing the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. The DMCA gave copyright holders new rights to control the way people use copyrighted material and new protection for technologies designed to restrict access or copying. The movie and record companies argued they needed these new restrictions to fight increased piracy threats in the digital era...

Meanwhile, entire consumer electronics categories have been wiped from retail shelves. If three or four years ago you didn't buy a digital video recorder that automatically skips commercials, you're out of luck; that feature is not in such products today. Television executives brought litigation that bankrupted the company offering DVRs with these user-friendly features, because skipping commercials potentially undermines their ability to sell commercial time.

You're likewise out of luck if you're looking to buy software that lets you copy a DVD onto your laptop's hard drive; it's no longer for sale, at least not in the United States. Even if you want to put the movie you bought onto a pocket-size video and game console, such as Sony's PlayStation Portable, which allows users to watch video stored on flash memory or a miniature hard drive, you can't legally do so, because you'd have to “rip,” or decode, it to make the transfer—and the studios claim that this action violates the DMCA. When you rip a CD, be it to an audiotape or an MP3 file, you're not breaking any laws. But to rip a DVD you need to somehow get around the encryption technology built into a standard disc, and since such circumvention is forbidden by the DMCA, if you rip a DVD, you are breaking a law. Under the DMCA, legality doesn't depend on how the copy will be used but rather on the means by which the digital content is copied...

Hollywood is good at telling stories. The one it has been screening in Washington—that music and movies will perish if the regulators don't kill the dangerous gizmos first—is powerful drama but has about as much basis in reality as Lord of the Rings. Killing off gizmos and subjecting technological development to the whims of federal regulators will ultimately hurt not just consumers but also tomorrow's creative industries—both technology and entertainment."

Fritz Attaway of the MPAA, however, in the same edition of the magazine claims "Few single pieces of legislation have done more to spur technological innovation and expand the supply of movies and other entertainment than the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA)." It's the usual rhetoric calling for the broadcast flag and the 'Analog Hole' legislation, saying they will greatly expand consumers' viewing choices allowing Hollywood to "out simple rules of the road for programming and equipment."

Thanks to Frank Field for the link.

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