My crackpot take on Big Media’s latest anti-infringement wishlist: Two trade representatives are on a flight bound for the annual Conference of Copyright Conglomerates. On hearing the captain’s announcement that the plane will be landing soon, the first trade rep nudges the second, who’s dozed off in the next seat over.
“We’re about to land,” the rep says.
The second rep stretches, yawns. “Damn. I was having the most vivid dream.”
“Oh? What about?”
“You ever read George Orwell’s 1984?”
“I was dreaming about that scene a quarter of the way into Part 1 where the Parsons boy accuses Winston of being a thought-criminal.”
The first rep smiles, nods understandably. “Sometimes I don’t want to wake up, either.”
The scary part is, the perpetual-surveillance attitude is becoming less whimsical with each passing year as Big Media continues to circulate its IP (intellectual property) wishlist. A quote from an EFF article that caught my eye:
…the entertainment industry thinks consumers should voluntarily install software that constantly scans our computers and identifies (and perhaps deletes) files found to be “infringing.”
Oh, that will go over well. Raise your hand if you’re a piece of software and you’ve never, ever had any bugs. Go ahead, don’t be shy. No one? No one at all? That’s what I thought. Automatic file-appropriateness scanners are a ludicrous idea—because you know they’ll follow a delete first, ask questions later policy. Heaven forbid you should save your daughter’s birthday video on your computer if it’s got a copyrighted song playing on a boombox in the background. Begin hypothetical: If it doesn’t get deleted, it’ll be held hostage until you pay the appropriate license fee. And you know there are those out there in IP Land who’d prefer you pay for each viewing rather than for a one-time only private usage license. Not your cup of tea? They’ve thought of that, too. A premium broadcaster’s license is also available. This gets you unlimited playback rights for a year. Pay for two years and you get 20% off. All because your daughter’s air-headed best friend thought it would be cool to play Justin Bieber during the barbecue. End hypothetical.
I’m not a big fan of automation. In February of this year, Scribd’s automatic IP-sniffing software accidentally classified two of my own books as infringing on my own copyright. The related Scribd pages were removed without prior warning. I understand the intent of such a system, and the desire of a company to negate the risk of a lawsuit due to perceived negligence. But when rolled out as, say, part of an all-inclusive security suite that gets installed on personal computers across the country…who’s accountable when false positives spring up? How does one get back their misidentified files? Can Norton Anti-IP 2010 Home Edition tell the difference between a DVD rip you made for your netbook and a file you downloaded off of a file-sharing site? How quickly do the anti-IP tech support departments think they can respond to all the e-mails that are sure to crop up?
It’s a can of worms, new solutions to old “problems”. Never mind that James Cameron’s Avatar has made close to a billion dollars in the midst of the Download Age. Big Media is insisting that Joe Average is killing their profits, and they’re counting on anti-IP legislation to bolster their pay-per-view models. In the meantime, experienced downloaders and pirates are unaffected—they’re in the business of steering clear of mainstream computing practices. It’s the average user who’ll leave Best Buy with an encumbered PC, a music CD that won’t play in more than one device at a time, or en e-reader that takes all of your e-books with it when you accidentally drop it down a flight of stairs.
Do not want.