Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Copying your own DVDs is a personal right, but also illegal. Wait - what?

In Chapter 573 (or maybe not, I lose count) of the gradual erosion of consumer rights in the name of corporate profits and control, judge Marilyn Hall Patel of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California has ruled that DVD-copying software is illegal.

As making personal copies of your own software, music and DVDs is completely legal, you'd expect that software intended to fulfill that purpose should also be legal. Not so. Patel's justification:
"While it may well be fair use for an individual consumer to store a backup copy of a personally-owned DVD on that individual's computer, a federal law has nonetheless made it illegal to manufacture or traffic in a device or tool that permits a consumer to make such copies."
The law in question is a tenet of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which prohibits the circumvention of copy-protection (such as that found on DVDs), regardless of whether or not any copyright infringement has actually taken place.

Judge Patel is a good judge. She's not rewriting law to suit her own opinions (whatever those may be). I personally like a little activism in my judiciary, but she's in her 70s and I'll cut her a little slack.

The law itself is the real matter. It's clear that we've moved in a bad direction as a society. When media conglomerates actively move toward restricting the legal right of consumers to copy their own media, and actively seek to rewrite law to make it illegal to bypass these restrictions, these corporations are actively working by definition as oppressors, seeking to restrict the freedoms and legal rights of individuals in the singleminded pursuit of profits. As the passage of laws like the DMCA shows, the United States has proven particularly susceptible to the arm-twist of these megacorporations and trade groups who work hand-in-hand with our elected leaders to restrict consumer freedom. When copyright law is viewed as a two-way agreement, it's tough not to argue that these corporations are themselves infringing copyright, and ought to be kept in check for the public good.

The RIAA and MPAA already control much of the discourse on this issue, and for all of their sanctimonious prattle about "artist's rights" it's clear that they couldn't care less about the actual talent behind the industry.

Labels are already becoming (but haven't quite become) irrelevant as new technology allows consumers to learn about and share media more efficiently than ever and artists to take a higher and higher share of the profits reaped from the music they produce. But as it becomes clear how rabidly anticonsumer these labels have become, pushing for stricter and stricter controls and punishing legal applications of their product without any recourse for citizens, it's difficult to pity them.

They're a reactive organization, not a proactive one, and new media and channels of information will quickly bypass them and leave them in the dust, unless they find a way to shackle every device we own. Can you imagine a world in which media giants had successfully blocked the release of the VCR due to copyright concerns? (They tried.) What about MP3 players, or recordable CDs, or independent music and movie players for computers? These corporations aren't fighting for artist's rights, or intellectual property, or anything quite so noble. They might think they're fighting for their bottom line, but all they're doing is killing the proverbial golden goose and sealing their own demise. Let's make sure that they don't seal our own with it.

1 comment:

  1. Well, on the bright side, in a generation the very genetic material of all available food will by copyrighted, and then DRM issues will seem like decidedly small potatoes.

    ... I guess that's not really a 'bright side', though.


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