MacWorld on DVD Ripping: Is It Legal?

One of the smartest, most thoughtful discussions I’ve seen about ripping backups of DVDs you own, from MacWorld Staff:

Is DVD ripping illegal?

The MPAA and most media companies argue that you can’t legally copy or convert commercial DVDs for any reason. We (and others) think that, if you own a DVD, you should be able to override its copy protection to make a backup copy or to convert its content for viewing on other devices. Currently, the law isn’t entirely clear one way or the other—Fair Use proponents claim you have the right to make a back-up copy of the media you own whereas those who support the Digital Millennium Copyright Act say that the DMCA overrides Fair Use.

Go read the rest here.

Steve Jobs on Copyright

“If copyright dies, if patents die, if the protection of intellectual property is eroded, then people will stop investing. That hurts everyone. People need to have the incentive that if they invest and succeed, they can make a fair profit. Otherwise they’ll stop investing. But on another level entirely, it’s just wrong to steal. Or, let’s put it another way: it is corrosive to one’s character to steal.”

Steve Jobs, Dec. 2003

DMCA and Fandom

I attended the “The DMCA and Fandom” panel on Sunday at ConJosé. The official description reads:

How has the Digital Millennium Copyright Act affected Fandom? Fan writers, editors and lawyers discuss recent actions and activities surrounding Fan Fiction.

The participants were Cory Doctorow (author and EFF Outreach Coordinator), C. E. Petit (Harlan Ellison’s attorney), Deborah M. Geisler (an acdemic, fan, and writer), Christy Hardin Smith (attorney and author), Julie Stephenson (fan and attorney, with an interest in writing), and John F. Hertz (attorney, fan, and dance master), who moderated.

The ostensible subject, fans, fandom, and copyright was never really thoroughly addressed—in part I think because the subject was really too large. It should have been divided into two panels, one on the DMCA, and another on Fandom, Fan writing, and copyright and trademarks. More often then not, in the case of say, Buffy fan fiction, or Trek fiction, it’s less a matter of copyright and more one of trademarks, and protective studios. The panelists made a good effort to get there, and the very end of the panel did discuss fannish issues.

The panel spent a fair amount of time, understandably, discussing the DMCA itself. Perhaps Mr. Petit said it best when (I’m paraphrasing) he said that it’s really two unconnected parts. The first part of the DMCA deals largely with the ISP (Internet Service Provider)’s Safe Harbor. The second half deals with “piracy prevention” or “Anti Circumvention.” Mr. Petit described the second half of the DMCA as “bad law, unjustified, just a bad idea.” I want to thank him for a very clear effort he made to be understandable and specific—and for his well-worth perusing web site on copyright from an author-centric stance.

Much of the discussion dealt with the Notice of Takedown, and the problems with the way plaintiffs execute the notice. Often no reason for the notice—no specific text or passage—is given, and often it goes to the ISP not the user. The user may never be told his or her site was taken down because of a DMCA complaint. If the user doesn’t know that a DMCA complaint triggers the “Notice of Takedown,” then the user can’t respond with a “Counter Notification,” explaining why the content does not in fact infringe copyright.

Cory Doctorow (who was also clearly making an effort to be clear but non-confrontational), near the end, made a wonderful point, almost a paen, about the original intent of copyright in the U.S. He was, I think, riffing on the original bit in the Constitution Art I, Sec. 8, Clause 8:

“To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.”

The idea was to promote publication, to increase the number of works available to the public, and to encourage their dessimination, and to eventually have those works return to the commons. We need to remind our legislators of that.

At the same time, I do very much want creators rewarded for their efforts. I just don’t think the DMCA is a rational way to do that. As written, the DMCA invites abuse. I’m increasingly also leaning towards a version of the European droits moral as a partial solution. And I think that creators should be able to decide what rights they are reserving and what rights they are licensing—Lawrence Lessig’s Creative Commons strikes me as a very smart solution to some of our problems, and throwing out the DMCA and starting over for others.

Information Wave Technologies Bans the RIAA

From a press release from host Information Wave Technologies, via Metafilter:

Due to the nature of this matter and RIAA’s previous history, we feel the RIAA will abuse software vulerabilities in a client’s browser after the browser accesses its site, potentially allowing the RIAA to access and/or tamper with your data. Starting at midnight on August 19, 2002, Information Wave customers will no longer be able to reach the RIAA’s web site. Information Wave will also actively seek out attempts by the RIAA to thwart this policy and apply additional filters to protect our customers’ data.

They’re also engaging in null seeding, and tracking the data: “Clients which connect to our peer-to-peer clients, and then afterwards attempt to illegally access the network will be immediately blacklisted from Information Wave’s network.” That is, Information Wave Technologies is preventing would be RIAA or any other outside user from using its own network as a staging point for attacks on the Gnutella network.This is an different appoach; it will be interesting to see if others adopt similar strategies.

About Mr. Coble

I knew a bit about Congressman Howard Berman, since he’s the representative for my home state, California, but I’d never heard of Congressman Howard Coble (R-North Carolina) until I learned he was Berman’s co-sponsor for the so called “Peer to Peer Piracy” bill.

Here’s a list of Coble’s top eleven contributors (via PACs and other forms of contributions):

Assn of Trial Lawyers of America $10,000
Winston & Strawn $5,515
Recording Industry Assn of America $5,374
National Assn of Broadcasters $5,360
ASCAP $5,000
National Assn of Realtors $5,000
Teamsters Union $5,000
Wal-Mart Stores $5,000
GlaxoSmithKline $4,999
National Cable Television Assn $4,999
American Intellectual Property Law Assn $4,000

You will note that the list features several large entertainment corporations, with vested interests in controlling intellectual policy, including the Recording Industry Academy of America (RIAA) who might as well have written the bill themselves, The National Association of Broadcasters, ASCAP, and the National Cable Television Association. You will notice that the top two positions are occupied by the Association of Trial Lawyers of America, and Wallace and Strawn, a law firm who represents Euro Disney, and Microsoft (Palladium chip anyone?). In fact, just as with Howard Berman, the two industries that are responsible for most of Coble’s funding are:

Lawyers/Law Firms $35,515
TV/Movies/Music $33,483

Now, I can see that Coble would likely always have a sizeable percentage of his money coming from lawyers and law firms since he’s on the Judiciary committee. But last year the top industries his monies came from were Pharmaceuticals/Health, and Lawyers and Law firms, with TV/Movies/Music the third. Do I think he’s representing the voters of North Carolina when he sponsored this bill? No, I really don’t. He may think he is, having been informed by the relentless lobbies of the entertainment industry that what’s good for them and for attorneys (who always win when litigation is involved) is good for his constituents.

I also suspect that, like many people who have little or no exposure to digital technology, and who don’t actively use it themselves, Senators Coble and Berman must depend on the information they are given—and right now, that information is not coming from end users, it’s filtered through the paranoid neuroses of the RIAA, who not only don’t want files to circulate, they want to be able to control digital technology, instead letting users control their own hardware and software.