Was Only the Beginning
By Jim Bray
Napster may be on its deathbed, but it wont put to rest the issue
of intellectual property versus freedom.
Theres also a fight on over the potential wholesale pirating of
DVD movies, a trick made possible by a smart kid who was apparently trying
to build his own better mousetrap.
Anyone whos watched a DVD knows how great their quality can be,
but anyone whos tried to record one onto a VCR has found it to be
a mostly frustrating experience. Not only do many contain antipiracy software,
but the quality lost going from the digital disc to analog tape is enough
to bring tears to the eyes of the most blatant buccaneer.
Imagine the market, then both for profit and for personal use
if you could make perfect copies of your favorite flicks.
Now, DVD recorders are slowly becoming available, but theyre pretty
expensive right now and whether or not theyll bypass the copy protection
is a question for another column. In the meantime, that aforementioned
teenager has come up with a utility that can allow Digital Blackbeards
to copy a DVD onto their hard drives, and from there do whatever they
want with it.
The utility was apparently designed to let Linux users play back DVDs
on their computers, but it can also supposedly get around the copy protection
encoded onto the DVD discs, though I havent tried it and therefore
cant comment on whether or not it really works.
Still, you can imagine the absolute furor this set off in Hollywood as
visions of purloined sugarplums danced through the moviemakers heads.
They overreacted predictably, by not only trying to get the utility banned
but by applying for a restraining order to prevent the publication of
any Web site links information about the utility or, according to a post
on the tech-related site Slashdot, theyre trying to stifle
anyone who publishes or links to information about (it).
That seems to me like a violation of freedom of speech, but what do you
expect from inclusive forces of tolerance like Hollywood producers and
their lawyers? I must assume that, since Im writing about the subject,
this column could bring me to the attention of the authorities.
Good thing I still have that old bomb shelter in the back yard, so I
can hide out until the police have left
The freedom of speech community is gaining the support of
such groups as the ACLU, which encouraged the courts to interpret
copyright laws to accommodate free speech concerns.
The ACLU argues that the fair use doctrine has traditionally
limited copyright liability by protecting the use of copyrighted works
in criticism, parody, comment, news reporting, teaching and scholarship.
The argument makes a certain amount of sense, I must admit, as long it
isnt used as an excuse for blatant and widespread piracy.
Whichever way the legal situation works out, a Napster-like movie-trading
site is definitely possible, though right now it isnt very practical
thanks to the bandwidth required to download such large files. It wont
be long, however, before the bandwidth question is answered.
Ironically enough, Hollywood is helping move the bandwidth ahead. Some
producers now transmit portions of their movies-in-progress to remote
locations for consultation or editing purposes, and the first digital
movie theatres (which receive their films via satellite transmission)
have already sprung up. Can the Internet be far behind in becoming a high
speed pipeline capable of the full scale distribution of high quality
Therein lies a lot of Hollywoods concern, Im sure.
As for me, a creator of what could be called intellectual property (though
Id hesitate to think of it as being particularly intellectual),
I must come down on the side of the copyright holders lest I be accused
of being a hypocrite of gargantuan proportions.
Its one thing to give away your work, and another to have it taken.
These artists work hard to make it and regardless of how rich theyve
become (isnt that what hard work and ingenuity are supposed to bring?)
theyre entitled to the spoils of their effort.
If some artists want to encourage the free distribution of their material,
thats fine but it needs to be their decision not yours and
mine. Theres no such thing as a free lunch.
So I hope Napster and its potential successors go away.
Jim Bray's technology columns are distributed by the TechnoFILE and Mochila Syndicates. Copyright Jim Bray.