Thursday, November 17, 2005

Digital piracy and DVD copy protections

Of all the pros and cons in the digital share or not to share debate, perhaps two of the best are Linus Torvalds and Dan Bricklin. Torvalds, of course, birthed the Linux operating system. Bricklin, on the other hand, may be slightly less well known. the REAL king of all media

The inventor of the first spreadsheet program, Dan Bricklin is a proponent of the share side of the debate. He has written extensively on his website about the dangers DVD copy protections pose to the future of computing.

The crux of Bricklin's argument is that casual computer users- those who lack an illicit agenda- are the record keepers of a generation. Copy a disk, store it in a desk somewhere for the day when a backup may become necessary. The best way to learn where we're going is to know where we've been. It's said often enough. But how true that the litigious nature of society is lending itself to so many protections... we will protect ourselves right out of a history!

Case in point: In 1999, a longtime inventor named Ziarno decided to sue the Red Cross over what he saw as patent infringements. The idea was his, Ziarno said, to collect money via a particular online donation process. Much to the chagrin of the inventor, two programmers named Eastburn and Trevor had made it a hobby to collect outdated software. Sort of a technological 'walk down memory lane.' In court, they recreated an early Compuserve site- a site that proved despite Ziarno's patent, the idea was not originally his [BBC News].

Though it is unlikely one will ever be prevented from copying or saving websites to their home computer, it is a relatively small leap to say that such a situation could pertain to software and hardware itself, in the coming years. Where will we be, if the casual user is left out of the loop? It is to this same end that DVD protections prohibit the film buff from adding copied movies to his home library. The film buff copies his DVDs, perhaps only for the purposes of backup, perhaps for sharing within a small network of friends. But there is no commercial profit acquired out ofm&m quotables said copying-- thus, prohibiting such things because of what a small group of people "could" do with the technology is a perversion of our legal system.

It is easy to see why actors and producers of movies might associate piracy of their art with mounting negative social consequences. They believe, as reasonable people do, that their efforts should not go uncompensated or unrecognized. Even more than that, they may fear their work will be corrupted or used outside of its intent (witness the associations made between Michael Moore's documentaries and campaigning politicians last election season; locally, this was the RNC's primary tactic for attacking the character of Democratic candidate Virginia Schrader.)

The fault in this instance lies again with presumed mal intent. Why even release movies on video at all? People could invite 40 friends over to watch, while just one person has paid the my little brother- wearing the family shame for all to see :Prental fee. After all, movies grant entrance on a per person fee. More likely, it is the newness of the medium that scares the stakeholders involved. Betamax was a fearful entity in the early eighties; and in the years since, though piracy has been a persistent problem, it never reared its ugly head in the way it was expected to. The same will eventually be proven of the Internet and DvD movie/file downloading, the piracy that makes its way from the theater to online communities. Good conscience still guides most people- and where it doesn't, criminals should be prosecuted after the fact, not before.

As for the legalities of the issue, lawyers will always fall on the moneyed side of the piracy debate. (Depending on the client, they may be pro or con; but, in this modern age, lawyers tend to side with the deep pocketed business interests.) In their eyes, anyone who even thinks of infringing on a copyright is guilty. In any event, logic tells us that no matter where the legislators land on the issue, people will continue to test loopholes, thus supplying lawyers with a steady stream of clients.

Optimism of a strange sort may provide a helpful outlook for the lawyer's future, but what of the digital pirate? He, who makes his living plugging away at the keyboard day in and out, never creating, but merely trafficking in the work of others. As Assistant Attorney General John Richter said in May, 'They won't be able to hide in anonymity much longer' [BBC News]. Here, implied, is the fear that keeps many legislators and politicians in a cold sweat at night. As per their habit of presuming guilt, governmental leaders also tend to think society will degenerate and implode upon itself if left unsupervised for even a moment; and in many ways, that fear makes some sense. However, an irrational component of that fear is the D.C. mindset that says there is only one way to do things.

Imagine...they think the human consciousness is so static that it does not shift over time. The technological landscape is our final frontier. We're watching Gates and his fellow pioneers as they attempt to forge nation states all over again.

To expand some more on the Richter quote, especially in the light of the Microsoft initiative announced in early November- a move that aims to push the software giant almost wholly i wonder what kind of property taxes they pay there... online- we're seeing a face emerge on the World Wide Web. Like Hollywood consultants of old- those who took a Norma Jean and made her into a Marilyn, or a Robert Zimmerman into a Bob Dylan- the Internet is being given a personality. A face-lift. As the anonymity fades away, as new laws continue to emerge, the positives trickling out of the process may prove to be worth the trouble. Technology no longer makes people afraid- their perceptions are clearing. And by the same token, perhaps digital pirates will- if not cease and desist- then become a whole lot more careful!