Death by DMCA

Spectrum has one of the best articles I’ve ever seen explaining the DMCA.

As the entertainment industry expands copyright law, the rising tide threatens to completely wash away many types of innovative gadgets.

Before the passage of the DMCA, entertainment and technology had, for the most part, peacefully coexisted. Laws addressing the use and misuse of copyrighted content targeted “bad actors” rather than complete classes of technology. For example, when songwriters in the 1920s sued radio stations for broadcasting live music performances without paying the songwriters, the lawyers did nothing to the companies that designed and built the broadcast transmitter towers. And in the early 1980s, when videocassette recorders (VCRs) made it possible for consumers to record television broadcasts, the U.S. Supreme Court, in its landmark Betamax case, ruled that the manufacturers of home video-recording devices were not liable for copyright infringement.

By the 1990s, U.S. entertainment companies wanted not just compensation but control. They went abroad to fight for in­ternational treaties that went beyond punishing copyright infringement. These new treaties endorsed copyright-protection technologies and prohibited the circumvention of these technological barriers. Then the companies brought the treaties back home to demand an update of the U.S. Copyright Act. And that brought about the DMCA.

The most controversial of the DMCA’s additions to copyright made it a crime to circumvent “technological protection measures” deployed on copyrighted works. Under the DMCA, these measures mean any technology used to restrict or prevent copying of or access to a copyrighted work. Thus, the DMCA makes it illegal to bypass a password-control system and also prevents working around an encryption scheme that might stop someone from copying a song to an MP3 player. Other DMCA provisions outlaw the distribution of devices that bypass these digital locks.

Copyright is being turned from a limited-term incentive designed to encourage creative artists to a broadly scoped transfer of wealth from the public to the private realm. As the industries that generate copyrighted materials seek control over not only their works but also the devices on which we watch, listen to, and remix them, copyright law is turning into technology regulation.

That’s it in a nutshell. The content industry doesn’t just want compensation for creative works, they want complete control over every way in which they’re consumed (Ostensibly, so they can charge consumers over and over for the same content, forcing you to re-purchase it for every new device you might buy). Technologies like DRM combined with laws like the DMCA are designed to achieve this end, it’s nothing short of theft from the public by the corporations which control our shared culture.

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