home > weblog > 2003 > october > blog101303.php
I join the ranks of the published! That's right, your humble blogger is now a published author of an article on technical matters. I hope to contribute weekly to lockergnome.com and any thoughts you have for subject matter are always welcome. For those who don't have the ability to get fancy emails, here's my article:
What keeps me up at night
A little known bill, the Database and Collections of Information Misappropriations Act, is trying to push its way through Congress even as I write this. A lot of people will tell you that this bill will help people protect the information that they've worked hard to collect, but there's a sinister feeling that oozes from this bill and chills my very soul.
When the concept of "digital rights" first arose, everyone was all for it. A parallel lesson was also demonstrated by seatbelt laws. After all, we all should wear ours, shouldn't we? The issue was never whether or not we should be good citizens and not pirate software (or dare to ride in our cars that we paid for with our own money without a seatbelt), it was about large companies trying to protect and grow their revenue streams. When the DCMA first burst on the scene in 1998, all they wanted to do was get people in China to buy licensed copies of Windows. Instead of getting 1 billion additional copies of Windows licenses sold, it was used to run Napster out of business, and now is being used by the RIAA (read: large media conglomerates like Sony) to sue 12-yr-old girls who live in "the projects" who downloaded their favorite songs to listen to at home. I've not seen anything in print that would imply that any of the individuals who were sued were charging illegal royalties for music that they didn't own. Instead, a group of large companies spent $47,000,000 to form a lobbying group to influence lawmakers to further restrict your rights to do something as simple as make a personal copy of something that you own for your own backup.
Now, a lot of people are thinking "yeah, right, we all know that everyone makes copies for their friends, not themselves, and the artists are being cheated." Well, the people that are cheating the artists aren't you and me - it's those same large companies. Ask any reasonably intelligent artist, especially one that has been in the business over 10 years. I've read a lot of their opinions, and they basically say that free downloading has HELPED them sell albums. Those poor artists also get robbed blind by the media companies who give them six cents per song, even though Congress passed a "minimum wage" of sorts that mandates eight cents per song. The record companies force artists to sign away that right and agree to accept the six cent fee, or else they don't get a contract. Aren't these companies nice? They pay the artist six cents a song (that's normally less than $1 per album), and then sell the CD that they mass-produce for upwards of $10 to retail channels. Talk about mark-up!
The same DCMA is being used by Lexmark to try to put third-party ink suppliers out of business. They redesigned their printers in such a way that third-parties have to reproduce a meaningless "feature" (that doesn't really do anything) in order for their ink to work in the printers. Now Lexmark claims that the technology violates the DCMA. It was a ruse to create just that scenario purely for the purpose of exploiting that law!
So, the evolution of these "digital rights" is taking on two new (chilling) incarnations. The first was scarily referred to as "Fritz Chip" for its sponsor's name. Fritz Hollings, one of our senior Senators, is pushing a chip that would be a part of the motherboard that would automatically (and without your knowledge and/or permission) delete any software that an outside source determined you did not provide proof of purchase for.
Back to the Database and Collections of Information Misappropriations Act. The other frightening piece of legislative brou-ha-ha is being touted as a means to protect the content of any database from being duplicated. After all, if someone has taken the time to collect information, it should be against the law to take that information, correct? Well, it could also be used to sue people who reproduce school sporting event schedules, fan sites who post appearance schedules for personalities, and a host of other innocuous uses.
The purpose of a law can be admirable, but the law can still be bad legislation. The unintended consequences of these laws can be worse than the acts they were meant to protect people from. An example of these "unintended consequences" in Georgia was a law meant to protect homeowners from being duped with hidden mortgage clauses that could potentially hurt the homeowner down the road. Its goal was to protect primarily lower-income families from predatory lending practices. The result was that many mortgage brokers stopped doing business in the state, and mortgages were harder to finance, especially for lower-income households. Emergency legislation had to be passed to "fix" (neuter) that bill until better legislation can be drafted.
Now, I'm not saying that we should use this time to copy everything that we can before Congress passes laws to prevent it. But we should take our time before we enact sweeping and overly- broad legislation that could affect the delivery of the very information that makes the Internet a great place to visit. I urge each of you to contact your Senators and let them know that you want the Internet to be a free place. For if you don't, you may find it will dry up like a desert.
I hope you like what I have to say. I promise to try to do better next with style - I need to do better at spelling out those abbreviations, and I'm sure I can find 5 other things to improve on if I look closer. Your feedback would help, too. Is there something that you want to know more about? Let me know!
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