More Comments on the Fair Use Symposium

1.  I’ve been really interested in one peculiar strain of rhetoric that RIAA/MPAA/BSA/et al employ.  They say that a single unprotected copy can spread all over the world, so they need perfect protection to ensure that mass piracy does not occur.  Now, at the conference, Alec and Robert were saying that they need the DMCA to get piracy down to manageable levels.  They know they can’t stop everyone from breaking the encryption or obtaining a pirated copy, but they can make it hard for the bulk of the population.  I hear that sentiment more and more these days as the RIAA tries to change its image to seem more accomodating to consumers.


Does this rhetoric make any sense?  The “single unprotected copy” problem is a binary issue – total control/no piracy and no control/total piracy.  The “manageable level” idea implies a spectrum of states.  So, which is it?


I’m not pointing this out to say ha-ha, stupid copyright holders can’t even come up with a coherent argument.  Rather, I think it’s indicative of a sort of identity crisis in the copyfight. 


I look at Alec French saying that CSS has worked, that it’s been a boon to DVD production and that it’s suppressed piracy to manageable levels.  The thing is, CSS doesn’t fit the spectrum of states model – it’s binary.  Because of DeCSS, anyone who wants to can make a copy of a DVD.  I can’t imagine someone putting a DVD into their computer and, when failing to copy it, would just stop there.  If someone really wants to make a copy, they’ll go to Google, and it’s pretty straightforward from there.  Moreover, if people want to get a pirated copy of a movie they can.


So how can you say that CSS really works? And how can you say the DMCA worked to prevent DeCSS from being created and distributed?  How has it reduced piracy?


The point is: I feel like some parts of the entertainment industry really want to tone down their message, and part of that is saying that they only want to get piracy down to a manageable level.  If they take this more minimalist approach, it’ll seem better for consumers and it will probably be easier to carry out.  At the same time, they see what’s happened with the cracking of current DRM, and that makes it seem like they need total control (Holling bill, plugging the analog hole, etc.).   So they’re kind of trapped, caught between these very different ideas of how effective DRM needs to be and how to end piracy.


You end up with rather inconsistent messages from the entertainment industry, which (at least for me) are incredibly disconcerting.  I wonder what their goal is, what would satisfy them.  Until we know that, it’s hard to push towards any solution.  Particularly, it’s important to know what a manageable level of piracy would mean for them.  What level of control are they actually seeking?  Or, is that part of the rhetoric just a ruse?  I’d like to know, because it’s going to be critical to any compromise. 


2.  Though Frank thinks I was being a little harsh regarding Boucher’s speech, I didn’t mean to be – I was just trying to state that I wasn’t overwhelmed by anything he had to say.  In fact, I was rather underwhelmed. Maybe I’m not his audience, but I was hoping for something incredible from him since he is often portrayed as Our Guy in Congress.  Instead, I got the normal DMCA talk, which is fine, but nothing that I felt like taking a ton of notes on.  Though that’s my reaction, it doesn’t mean it was a bad speech.


3. Many panelists mentioned education as one way to help stop piracy.  I’m not too convinced.  I don’t think people are downloading music because they think it’s legal. They know it’s illegal, they do it anyway.  That goes for pirated software, too.  The BSA has been leading education campaigns for years.  Has it changed anything?  I doubt it.


Can someone show me how education has been useful in the past?  Or, can someone describe to me some new form of education that might be effective and hasn’t already been tried?  What’s going to change people’s norms to the extent that piracy recedes?


I’ll have more later…