THE WARPED PERSPECTIVE
is an ominous trend in the entertainment and publishing industries today. Not only
has there been a steady degradation in quality of content over the past few decades
(see the article at MSNBC),
but these gigantic enterprises have decided to stop trying to improve the product
and instead squeeze out more income from the end-user. How do they plan to do this?
Simply put, by using the power of government to mandate hardware-based copy protection.
Many of you readers no doubt remember the "bad old days" of copy-protected
software. Nothing (in the pre-Windoze days) caused fits of anger like having Lotus
123 complain that "you have used up your allocated number of installs"
just because you defragmented your hard drive! The embedded copy-protection checker
could not find the secret file it had originally hidden on your hard drive during
installation (which it wrote there directly without an entry in the DOS FAT table).
This is because the defragger had moved it to a "more efficient" location
on the drive, and had dutifully notified the FAT table.... while naturally failing
to notify Lotus. A defragmenter assumes that all valid files have a FAT entry and
that this is all that is required to locate a file. The defragger had no way of
recognizing the meaning of a certain "special" file, since all files are
supposed to be transparent to a utility program.
Would we really like to have defrag, read, write, copy, and other utilities read
the contents of our files before processing them? Yet this is the kind of mechanism
that the music distribution, movie distribution, and software distribution empires
want to create. They want to apply this new regime at an even more pervasive level:
they are urging the hardware manufacturers to collaborate with them to produce hardware-based
copy-protection schemes. Imagine that -- it would become illegal to buy or use a
PC that did not have a federally-approved copy-prevention mechanism embedded in
the chips, the hard drives, the CD-ROMs, or whatever other storage devices were
invented in the future. What would be the consequences of this so-called "advance"
It should be obvious to all readers that this new regime will dramatically increase
the cost and the complexity of computing. Imagine having to ante up a credit card
just to make a backup copy of your favorite .MP3 or .WAV file. Imagine having to
pay a monthly subscription fee (to each website!) to download news, weather, or
sports information from the Web. Imagine having to ask for special permission to
restore an accidentally-deleted file!! Or, imagine having to pay Microsoft for a
new copy of Windoze every time a software bug or a virus or a hardware crash requires
you to re-install it....
And yet, all of this depends on the assumption that the copy-protection mechanism
actually works. Can hardware-based copy protection work? Sure, just as reliably
as any other hardware product. That means it will fail just as often as hardware
does, even if perfectly implemented. Will companies that charge a per-copy fee quickly
reimburse us if the copy does not take place successfully? What if there is a media
defect and that .MP3 file needs to be copied again? What if there is a power outage
during the copy process? What if we accidentally copy the wrong file -- must we
pay for the valid copy as well as the erroneous one?
And what happens to us if the protection scheme simply falls flat and refuses to
let us copy anything at all? Will PC repair shops require a special Disney-approved
license in order to repair duplication mechanisms? Will it be illegal to repair
your own PC or television set? Will people who use older, non-protective technologies
be branded as pirates and thieves?
This is just what society needs, to add another layer of complexity, confusion,
and inconvenience to our already complicated lives. The beauty of information is
that each person can manipulate it to their heart's content, can distribute it,
and collect it, and process it at will. The major information-based corporations
are intent on finding a way to destroy that beauty. This is the result of that infamous
combination of incompetence and greed that rules the modern corporate hierarchy.
Incapable of original or creative thought, these monolithic content-makers substitute
decadence and plagiarism instead. Then they whine and complain when they cannot
make exorbitant profits from their swill.
So they are intent on squeezing out profit from the enduser's information-handling
activities, all in the name of "intellectual property." To curb the abuses
of a tiny minority of users, they are banding together to place huge burdens of
inconvenience and complexity on the rest of us. Obsessed with the thought that somebody,
somewhere, someday may get a "free" copy of one of their products, they
are willing to add to the cost structure of every normal, legal, personal information-processing
activity. Say goodbye to "fair use" and the ability to listen to your
favorite music CD in your car, at home, and at the office. From now on, you'll have
to buy a separate copy for each physical device you use your CDs in, or else physically
carry your collection of originals from place to place.
Most recent revision: February 28, 2002
Copyright © 2002, Tom Nadeau
All Rights Reserved.