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ATPM 8.10
October 2002


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On a Clear Day You Can See the Hollywood Sign

by Mike Shields,

There’s No “There,” There

Long-time followers of my rants and raves will know that around this time I report on the various expos and conventions that I’ve attended during the summer. Well, I went to Showbiz Expo this year, and its size was only half that of last year. I got some really nice personal attention from the fine folks at Final Draft Inc., as I was the only one there, and they had around 20 people manning their booth. A reliable source tells me that all the real companies have started attending a rival expo called Cinegear. And this year, it was inconveniently held at the same time. I apparently attended the wrong one.

A couple of months later comes the San Diego Comic Book Convention. We had a great time. All 63,000 of us. And not a Mac in sight. They were probably all at the Digital Video Expo that took place earlier in the week, but again, I could only go to one. Well, I could’ve attempted to go to the DV Expo, however, that would’ve caused much consternation at home. So, instead of ending my missive here, I’ll expand on what I wrote about last time. Stay with me, some of it may even be Mac related. (Maybe I’ll change the title of my column again, who knows?)

We’re Mad As Hell…

I don’t have to tell you, things are bad. So starts one of the greatest monologues ever in the history of the movies. And if you haven’t seen Network, go rent it from a video store near you. If there aren’t any near you, as always, move. This is where I diverge from Howard Beale’s rant. As today, the reasons things are bad are different. Similar, yet different.

You may remember that last time I touched on how our various rights, intellectual and otherwise, are being infringed. Of course, that was only the beginning. Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA), from the district where I grew up, has introduced legislation to make hacking peer-to-peer networks legal, if you believe your intellectual property rights have been infringed. I knew there was a reason that I moved and now I know what it is. Of course, I’m no better off. My current representative is the chair of the committee that will eventually decide what laws get written in this area. In the name of Homeland Security no less.

What’s wrong with this picture? Well, to personalize this, if I think you’ve obtained a copy of my screenplay Diamond is a Girl’s Best Friend illegally, I can get a warrant to search your hard drive. That’s right, your entire hard drive. By hacking. Got anything you don’t want me to find? Put it on a Zip disk. Wait, I can search those, too, with another court order, courtesy of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, or DMCA. If necessary, I can get a warrant to enter your house and have your computer, peripherals, floppies, Zips, etc. confiscated pending search. Neat, huh? Not since the fine folks at the Church of Scientology used these tactics to discredit their detractors have I seen this type of Draconian solution to a particular problem.

The cause of this dilemma is simple. First, a riddle, that I’m sure you’ve heard: What does the 500-pound parrot say? “Polly wanna cracker, now!” And, variations on this theme abound, my favorite is one I wrote in high school, over 25 years ago: What does the 500-pound student say? “I want independent study, now!” Another variant: What do you feed a 500-pound gorilla? Anything it wants. To understand this current battle, think of digital content providers (read: major studios and recording companies) as a combination of the 500-pound gorilla, and the 500-pound parrot. “We want copyright protection, now!” is their battle cry. And Congress is trying to give them what they want. That’s where the aforementioned bill comes from, and another one courtesy of Senator Fritz Hollings (D-SC) that I mentioned last time. Of course, he’s no longer supporting his own bill.

On the other side is, well, everyone else. Including the vastly huge and ever resourceful technology sector. Technology is a 600-billion-dollar industry and Hollywood is a 35-billion-dollar industry. So, why then does Hollywood get to dictate technology policy? An interview with Verizon VP & Associate General Council Sarah Deutsch explains this. Allow me to expand and expound. Although I said it last time, it bears repeating. The people taking sides are, taking sides. An amazing quote buried deep within tells about AOL Time Warner’s unique position of being on both sides of the argument, as they are both a content owner and service provider. What this means is that if there’s a violation, they can sue themselves. And then counter sue themselves, if necessary. And if they win, or lose, they can always appeal. All the way up to the Supreme Court. Of course, someone’s already done this, in relation to the Sonny Bono Copyright Protection Act, signed in 1998. It’s being challenged in the case Eldred v. Ashcroft. Larry Lessig, a Stanford University Law Professor will be arguing the case in front of the Supreme Court on October 9th. More on this can be found at the LA Times (registration required).

If this sounds ridiculous, well, it is. At the heart of the problem, is the proposed solution. A digital broadcast flag would be embedded in all transmissions of digital media. Receivers, such as your computer or television set, would have a device to decode the broadcast flag, and allow you to receive the broadcast. Guess what? All your current equipment has now suddenly been rendered obsolete. And this won’t stop analog recording, in any case. That’s right, I can still use my current VCR to tape your digital recording. Now, there might be a problem if in the future, I wish to watch the tape I’ve just made, on a digital TV with broadcast flag detection. The technological term for this is Digital Rights Management, or DRM. Companies such as Intel or Apple, call this constraining to technological innovation and consumer choice. Legal experts wonder whether current copyright law, which allows Fair Use, can survive DRM technology. The EFF has sent a letter opposing the broadcast flag back in June. In case you don’t want to check the link out, the relevant point is that consumers (that’s us) have been left out of the loop, as it were. And, according to Edward Felten the term broadcast flag, which sounds harmless, actually isn’t. It’s also misleading. And so is the term “piracy.” We should actually be using the word “infringement.”

Right about now, you should be shouting, “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!” As Howard Beale did, I’d encourage you to go to your window, throw it open, stick your head out and yell, “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!” However, since you’re reading this on the Net, and not all of you are reading it at the same time, it won’t have quite the same effect as it did when it went out over live broadcast in the movie. A better idea might be to write your congressman. Better yet, write mine. And tell her, you’re as mad as hell, and you’re not going to take it anymore!

72 and sunny in Redondo Beach.

E you next time.

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