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for October 13, 2003

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The Shift Hits The Fans
by Sean Carolan

If you're a record company, you're hurting right now, and you're looking for reasons why. That's even though you've released 25% fewer records this year than you did in 1999, you're wondering why your sales are down 10%.
So you hear about people downloading music for free. And you think, "Hey, that's my music! I filched it from starving artists and made them pay me for the pleasure, fair and square! I even took advantage of a bunch of clueless politicians to make sure I could keep it for longer than anyone's natural lifetime, even though the Constitution says copyright is "for a limited time"! How dare they!"
Conveniently, you blame this "downloading", or whatever it is, for all your woes, even though radio no longer plays ninety percent of the records you're releasing and it's, by and large, the only way your potential customers can hear your music that isn't getting played on the radio. So you get laws passed that make it illegal to disable any mechanism that prevents copying, even when it's legal to make copies.
Incidentally, that law's called the "DMCA", which is short for "Digital Millennium Copyright Act". Funny how these positive and patriotic-sounding names keep getting used for laws that, essentially, limit citizens' rights in favor of businesses.
Then you pay people who claim to know what they're talking about to copy-protect your new CDs. Incidentally, you only ever read their press releases, so you miss some of the little details, like the fact that their cockamamie scheme doesn't work on Macintoshes or Linux computers, and that even in Windows, there's a checkbox conveniently put there by Microsoft that defeats the whole shebang.
And immediately, you read about someone who manages to break your flimsy copy protection scheme just by pressing a single key on their keyboard.
So what do you do?
If you're SunnComm, makers of the MediaMax software that BMG used on one of its discs, and whose stock dropped 20% when news of the circumvention came out... file suit, claiming your copy-protection scheme was cracked, clearly in violation of the DMCA.
Incidentally, I could tell you which key on your keyboard defeats this software, but then they could sue me, too. But it's there. Conveniently located. Right under your fingertips. Twice, even. But I may have said too much. Is that a knock at my door? Okay, perhaps that's just being glib. It actually appears to be SunComm's position, based on their complaint, that I, as a computer user, can't delete their software from my computer once it's been automatically installed, and that it's not even legal for me to disable the stuff on my computer that automatically installs things. The suit they've filed complains that it's this piece of advice (and not specifically the keyboard instruction I mentioned earlier) that falls afoul of the DMCA.
Hogwash. I don't trust things that automatically install. Viruses automatically install. Spyware automatically installs. Ew.
Nope, sorry ... I can delete anything I want from my computer, including Windows. (As an aside, it's becoming clearer to me that maybe that's not a bad idea after all.)
So, are we agreed that SunnComm's lawsuit is a Bad Idea? Apparently, after much internal consideration, SunnComm thought the same. Perhaps they realized that the DMCA hurts businesses after all, by luring them into public relations disasters like this one. They may also have seen that consumers have a far simpler solution.
Y'see, consumers don't have to circumvent cockamamie schemes like SunnComm's at all. All they have to do is never buy a copy protected CD, ever. Because on the Internet, it's easy to find out what CDs are crippled in this way.
Of course, if everyone did that, record companies' sales would go down, wouldn't they? And then they'd look for someone to blame, wouldn't they?
And don'tcha think the mirror is the last place they'd look?

©2003 Sean Carolan

All material ©2001-2014 Sean Carolan, except as noted.


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