Napster and DeCSS: Is it about free speech or free stuff?

By Nicholas Petreley, LinuxWorld.com |  Operating Systems

I believe everyone should have the right to make copies of any CD or DVD for backup purposes. I would also not restrict you from making a copy of a CD or DVD for purposes of convenience, so that you do not have to schlep the original copy back and forth from house to car, for example. I wouldn't even have a stroke if I were a Sony executive and I found out someone was listening to a copy of a CD in his house without first calling his wife on the cell phone to make sure she wasn't listening to the original CD in the car at the same time.



Are any of the above situations against the law? Perhaps, but only Bill Gates would lose sleep over people making backup copies of a legitimately owned CD or accidentally using a CD in two places at once. The rest of the executives are simply irate over people who don't want to pay for a legitimate copy of a CD and deliberately subvert the system in order to get the content for free.



Second, let me assure you that I am perfectly aware that record companies often make obscene profits without a large enough portion going to the artists. But that is an entirely separate issue from copyright infringement, and needs to be addressed separately. You can't get the record companies to pay the artists better by stealing their work. So don't bother trying to justify something like the use of Napster to share copyrighted material based on the fact that recording contracts are unfair. That's just plain silly.

Freedom to watch DVDs

Having said all that, those of the free-everything greed generation aren't the only ones at fault here. There is plenty of idiocy to go around. The Motion Picture Association of America(MPAA) and DVD Copy Control Association (DVDCCA) have to share the Oscar for Most Stupid Actor in a Copy Protection Controversy when it comes to DeCSS and DVDs. If you take a peek at our prior LinuxWorld articles on the topic or visit the OpenDVD site, it is pretty clear that the MPAA and DVDCCA are shooting at the wrong target by aiming at DeCSS, the decryption code for the Content Scrambling System (CSS).



Assume for a moment -- and I think this is a false assumption, personally -- that CSS has made it more difficult to make illegal copies of DVDs. Even if this were true, all CSS does is force crooks to copy a DVD disk bit for bit. Our DVD thieves end up with a second DVD that is still encrypted, but plays fine on a DVD player. In other words, CSS just makes crooks focus on technology B (bit-for-bit copying) instead of technology A (decryption).



As long as the MPAA and DVDCCA want to protect DVDs against illegal copies, the correct answer to the DeCSS controversy is for vendors to stop wasting their time protecting the encryption of data on DVDs and spend more time and money tracking down and arresting the people who are making and distributing those illegal copies.

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