OMG Licensed P2P!!!

This week, Mashboxx announced a licensing deal with EMI. Over a year ago, it announced its first licensing deal with Sony.  The service is still not even in its first beta.  After many laudatory articles and nearly a year after a Snocap rep contacted me because I had called the P2P filtering and payment service “vapor” over at Paidcontent, Snocap’s announced its new Linx retail service. Yet, so far as I know, the P2P system still has not been implemented in a live service.

Meanwhile, Kazaa settled and will open up a new licensed service at a later time.  Given the above, I bet Licensed Kazaa will launch some time in 2009.

Now that’s what I call progress.

(To be fair, the implementation of Linx here is actually kinda neat, and I’m all for rights aggregation of this sort.  But it’s sad (and predictable) how slowly these licensed distribution services are being rolled out.)

The DMCA’s Deserved Rap

In the comments of a post about Urs Gasser’s new paper on anti-circumvention laws, Tim Armstrong made this rather peculiar statement: “[M]y
paper on fair use and digital rights management (linked from the blog
) is in some measure an attempt to show that the DMCA has gotten
a bum rap — the statute has been blamed, incorrectly in my view, for
some problems that in reality stem from particular choices among
competing technological designs.”

What is the rap that Tim is referring to?

The main rap on the DMCA is that it has been completely and utterly ineffective in serving its chief aim: preventing “Internet piracy.”  This rap is wholly deserved. A cleartext copy of any given DRMed song or movie will be practically as readily accessible if there were no DRM at all.  The DMCA has done nothing to keep unencrypted media off P2P networks and other darknet sources.  This all holds true in what I like to refer to as “reality” – not to be confused with the pre-Napster time warp that too much scholarship still resides in.

The DMCA has also stifled fair use and innovation.  It greatly expanded copyright holders’ rights.  I don’t see how that’s a bum rap simply because one can imagine DRM that does less damage.

Moreover, given the first rap, why do alternative technological designs even matter? If the DMCA isn’t creating its intended benefit, then any damage is a net loss for society.  Tim has done a lot of careful thinking about alternative designs for DRM that better accomodate fair use and his paper is a nice extension of scholarship on this subject, starting roughly 5 years ago with a paper by Dan Burk and Julie Cohen and many papers on so called “rights expression languages.” But before weighing whether and how to accomodate fair use, it seems appropriate to examine whether DMCA+DRM can achieve their intended goals. If they can’t, then “better” DRM is a moot subject.

Now, there may be some other illegal uses DMCA+DRM could limit. For those who are unwilling or unable to find and acquire unencrypted content from alternative sources (e.g. P2P) *and* are unwilling or unable to use circumvention devices *and* are unwilling or unable to use the analog hole to make an unencrypted copy, perhaps DMCA+DRM could have an effect.  If someone would like to try justifying all the damage the DMCA+DRM have done to fair use and innovation based on limiting these other unlawful uses, please go ahead. 

A more likely tact, taken by Randy Picker among others, is to defend how the DMCA+DRM can limit *lawful* uses in order to enable platform monopolies and price discrimination.  Note that it seems Tim would be very much against this line of thought, since he’s saying the DMCA would be fine if only DRM accomodated fair use.

Tim Lee has recently spent a lot of time considering this issue, and it’s also worth checking out Pam Samuelson and Suzanne Scotchmer’s article related to this subject from 5 years ago. While I’m in Lee’s camp here, there are some decent arguments on the other side. For the moment, all I’d like to say is this: I would love it if the policy discussion around the DMCA merely focused on this point.  Enough about whether the DMCA prevents piracy (it doesn’t) or limits fair use (it does).  Please defend the DMCA openly as an abrogation of fair use and celebrate a world in which upstarts can’t come along and create new
cool tools that help you get more from your music and movies.  Please defend it as a reversal of established caselaw, and explain why that caselaw got it wrong in the first place.

Ars: “Activism makes a difference in California copyright fight”

As a former California public school student, working to improve this bill was especially fulfilling and fun.  Here’s hoping that the curriculum turns out alright. Stay tuned….

Keep DOPA Out of Schools

SethF sets the Deleting Online Predators Act in historical context.  Like CIPA, this bill would condition certain government funding for schools and libraries on the adoption of censorware — but this bill goes even further, targeting myriad communication tools including but not exclusively social networking. In its recent testimony, the ALA concisely explains the bill’s many problems.  The comments to this post are also instructive.  As the ALA points out, there are many reasons for kids to use online communication tools in the classroom or library, and here’s a heart-string pulling anecdote to cement the point (via Sivacracy).