Neat story in today’s NY Times about a copy-protection disabling number that is being spread all over the web to spite the lawyers. One caveat. Brad Stone writes:
The broader distribution of the code may not pose a serious threat to the movie industry, because only sophisticated technologists can use it to tailor the decryption software capable of getting around the copy protection on Blu-ray and HD DVD discs. But its relentless spread has already become a lesson in mob power on the Internet and the futility of censorship in the digital world.
The missing part to that argument is that it doesn’t matter one bit if only sophisticated technologists can use the number. It only takes one person to rip the dvd and put it online to be downloaded by anyone with a minimum of technical savvy. So the phenomenon is even worse for the entertainment companies.
Not that we should care. As the article implies, the industry is fighting a losing battle against file-sharing, and companies will have to adjust to the new media environment or go the way of vaudeville. Their domination is imperiled, and they will certainly fight that tooth and nail, but we should resist the idea that communication of intellectual property is equivalent to theft.
These arguments are familiar to most people acquainted with this issue, but I will repeat them because nobody is reading this. The original intent of copyright law was not simply to protect the rights of the creator, but to balance the tension between a creator’s need to be rewarded for work with society’s right to our common intellectual heritage. Ideally, it recognizes that no work can ever be called totally original, because it rests on a foundation of everything that has ever been said and thought. There lies the justification for the public domain. Cultural artifacts should return to the common culture once artists have been suitably, and moderately, remunerated.
But the entertainment industry is not interested in moderate remuneration. And it is not run by the artists. They are businessman out for profit, and thus operate under a very different moral calculus. But they should not be allowed to force that value system on the rest of us.
The new media environment may be one where large corporations cannot prosper. But we won’t be deprived of art, music, or films. Quite the opposite. Drastically cheaper means of production and distribution will, and already have, allowed a million individual creators to find a medium and audience. They may not be able to directly sell everything they make, and they will never gather enough profit to keep shareholders happy. But they may collect enough, through various means, for a moderate living. Or they may be content with the status rewards of fame and admiration. Either way, the needs of both society and the artist are being met.
If that gets in the way of a few executives and media superstars’ multi-million dollar dreams? Oh well…