Darknet – an interesting read re Intellectual Property rights

I’m nearly done reading Darknet – Hollywood’s War against the Digital Generation by J.D. Lasica.  It is a discussion of digital media and the attempts by media publishers, especially record and movie companies, to control how you use them.  I’ve found much of the information to be rather disturbing, mostly because the concept of fair use seems to be being dismantled by these publishers.  The publishers are working together with Congress and the courts to restrict how you are able to use CD’s, DVD’s, TV recordings, books, the Internet – anything that they deem as Intellectual Property that they own, and they are trying to force hardware and software companies (this means computers AND consumer electronics like TV and DVD) to build locked technology to obey rules and restrictions that they determine.  In many cases this amounts to no rights for you.  It seems that the end-goal of the publishers is to force pay-per-use of all media.

Did you know that the media companies have tried to kill nearly every media innovation because they couldn’t control it?  This includes FM radio, photocopiers, cassette recorders, VCRs, portable music players, digital video recorders, and now almost all forms of downloading.  Before they accepted HDTV, they got a “broadcast flag” requirement (which was recently struck down by the Supreme Court only because the court said the FCC didn’t have the power to require it).  This flag would have allowed them to say you can or cannot record a program, what quality recording you could make, and even how long you could keep the recording.  Now they are trying to force manufacturers to eliminate analog outputs on all devices, so that people cannot simply make an analog recording and digitize that.

Do you remember DIVX, the ill-fated scheme created by Circuit City and the studios to create special DVDs that you essentially rented?  The idea was that when you used one of these discs, the player would have to contact an authorization system to run a timer on your usage.  After a few days, you’d have to pay to use it again, or to use it “forever” on your player.  If you brought the disc to another DIVX player, you’d have to pay again.  The disc wouldn’t work on regular DVD players or in your computer.  Disney was one of the companies that thought this was a great idea, and they dragged their feet on releasing regular DVDs.  DIVX crashed and burned in less than a year, so if you paid for one of these discs and the right to use it forever, you are SOL now.  For people like me that jumped on the DVD bandwagon as soon as they came out, it was an infuriating technology.  Recently, they tried to market DVDs that self destruct after a couple days.  The problem is, now they’re trying to do the same things with the new technologies.

If you think it’s a good idea to backup discs because your kids destroy them, forget it.  The publishers want you to buy a new copy.  Since virtually every DVD and videotape is copy protected, it is a federal crime under the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) of 1998 to circumvent the copy protection and make a copy.  It is similarly a crime to copy any part of such a disc onto your computer.  No big deal, you say?  Many of the machines treat all video as copy protected – even things you create!

Why should you care?  The publishing industry is deep into development for replacements of CD, DVD, books, magazines, even newspapers.  It’s all bits to the publishers.  Since CD’s can be easily ripped, they are developing copy protected versions, which may not work on older players (in the electronics business, older = yesterday!)  Since DVD’s can be easily ripped, despite being a crime, they are developing newer versions that will have much stronger copy protection systems.  They’ll sell these to you as High Definition versions, and try to eliminate the older versions.  They’ll also try to eliminate any way of using these media that they can’t control.  Think about having to ask permission every time you use a paragraph from a book, even for private use.  Never happen, you say?  Think again.

You can read a mini version of this book online, at http://www.darknet.com/minibook/index.html.  I hope you find it as disturbing as I have!

 -JFS

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