Friday, March 04, 2005

Stopping Hollywood Before It Is Too Late

The clash between content owners and everybody else is coming to another critical juncture. The ability to make money from ideas has always been problematic. When innovation was primarily expressed in physical inventions, the patent system was introduced to provide protection to inventors.

When innovation is creative, we have copyright law. When the methods of publishing and distribution were restricted to the few (priniting, celluloid film, broadcast music), it was relatively easy to enforce collection of royalties through organizations such as ASCAP.

As the technology genie escaped from the lamp, it became more and more difficult to enforce creator rights. Xerox machines and scanners, VCR's and DVR's, ripping and MP3's, have all destroyed the old gatekeeper and control mechanisms. Add in the Internet to increase the reach and speed of distribution, and you have the meltdown of businesses based on the medium instead of the message.

Like a wounded animal, the studios and music publishers are striking out at those they percieve to threaten them. Their latest demand is that hardware (the medium) be legally obliged to incorporate piracy protection of their choosing.

While at first blush this may sound reasonable, the unintended consequences are manifest. It will become impossible to make backups of material you have legally licensed (already the case with DVD's). Innovation will be stifled as every new advance will have to seek permission from the content industry before it can be released. The kind of home music and video distribution systems that I have been playing with become illegal. There is already a case where the studios have sued a company called Kaliedescape, which makes a high-end home entertainment system with a DVD jukebox, over a product that streams material you already legally own.

Amid all the fear mongering and extreme warnings of the death of creative industries, some well written and thoughtful papers have been written as amicus curiae briefs in the case of the studios against Grokster. The National Venture Capital Association has a paper here, and the Free Software Foundation has their submission here.

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