Yesterday I posted a story about using a Mac mini in my home entertainment center. I noted that I’d already replaced my CD player with iTunes on an old iMac and I wondered if I could do the same for DVDs. I ignored the facts that some provisions of the DMCA may make this illegal. The music revolution was made possible because courts recognize our right to encode CDs from our collection as MP3s, and CDs (mostly) lack copy protections that prevent us from doing that. Most commercial DVDs, however, do have a form of copy protection called CSS, content scrambling system. Though, in theory, fair-use rights should allow us to space-shift the DVD content in the same way we do CDs, the film industry has used software to prevent us from doing so. What’s worse, they lobbied for a law — the DMCA — that makes it illegal for us to work around that software to exercise our fair-use rights. This is why we don’t already have iTunes for our DVDs.
Donna Wentworth at Copyfight was getting at this in a recent post there. Wentworth and others are complaining that the recent Consumer Electronics Show didn’t seem to have a new killer device. It didn’t have the wow, pop, or bang of previous shows. Nobody thinks the electronics manufacturers are giving up, though. The problem is that content owners, the movie studios, music publishers, and what remains of the book industry, are so busy trying to hold on to the old world order that they’re putting the stops to the really interesting new stuff.
Now, here’s the thing, the movie studios got really itchy about the VCR back in the 1980s, but VCRs actually created a new market for their content and resulted in higher studio profits, rather than lower. Yes, movie theaters have had to change to compete, but that wasn’t such a bad thing, was it?
Music publishers (back when music publishing meant paper transcriptions) had fought radio in the early days, but later learned that radio was their best marketing partner. Simple, and fair, licensing terms were established, and nobody went to jail for sharing music on-air.
Many similar stories can be found in Lawrence Lessig’s Free Culture, but how many more examples are necessary to show how we are actually less innovative today than 100 years ago? Why is it that technology is actually limiting our ability to do things we took for granted less than a decade ago?