The DMCA Throws a Little Salt in Our Eyes… Again

March 16, 2009

Just when we thought things with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act were starting to settle down…

The DMCA, signed into law by President Clinton in 1998, was designed as a means of protection for copyright holders as we entered the digital age. It was designed to protect vendors from the looming threat of widespread digital piracy, which would then protect consumers by allowing vendors to keep the market fair. As most anyone with a computer and access to the internet knows, the DMCA has done little to nothing to protect content, as just about anything you could imagine can be found with very little effort. Likewise, the act has managed to do even less than nothing to protect consumers, as companies seem to find new and innovative ways to take advantage of their customers everyday.

It was bad enough when the language of the DMCA stripped us of ownership of the media we purchase, introducing DRM (Digital Rights Management) to the lexicon and bringing us such debacles as Sony BMG’s rootkit or the Starforce DRM which made PC gaming a nightmare for many people. In response to the backlash from these missteps, though, it was starting to look like companies were starting to get it. These scandals were less frequent, and when they did occur, the implications were not nearly so great. It was starting to look as though consumer influence was going to shape the market going forward.

Still, never count the tag team of corporate greed and the DMCA out. It’s not that they don’t play by the rules, but that they make the rules. Two stories already this week tell us that the DMCA will continue to be a thorn in consumers’ sides for some time. First we have Apple, no strangers to DRM controversy. Last week, they announced the new model of their iPod Shuffle line of products, this time shrinking the famously tiny device by actually removing the buttons from the device and placing them on the headphone wire. That’s all fine and good, until a mysterious chip was discovered inside of the headphones. While, thus far, the chip is a mystery, it is speculated that this chip is some sort of DRM for hardware, forcing third-party vendors wishing to make headphones compatible with Apple’s new device to pay a licensing fee for the privilege of doing so. Though this story hasn’t been confirmed as of yet, it should be noted that, thanks to the DMCA, this type monopolistic behavior is, in fact, quite legal.UPDATE: Yeah, that’s what it is. Proprietary headphone technology. /me rolls eyes

The more disappointing and also more surprising story comes from Amazon this week. The company sent a legal notice to MobileRead.com informing them that they are in violation of the DMCA for producing a means for using ebooks not purchased from Amazon on Amazon’s popular Kindle ebook reader. Amazon, a company that seemed to understand what consumers wanted from their digital content providers, is now using the DMCA to eliminate competition in the growing ebook marketplace.

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act is a poor, outdated and misguided set of rules by which to govern the increasingly important market for digital content. It does not prevent piracy, it does not protect consumers, and it does not promote the growth of the market. In the 11 years since the DMCA was passed, it’s served only to hurt the consumers, hurt the producers of digital content, and enable the marketplace to be turned into an aristocracy by corporate greed.

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3 Responses to “The DMCA Throws a Little Salt in Our Eyes… Again”

  1. thebeerphilosopher said

    And yet what do you think would have happened to the music industry back at the advent of the MP3 had the DMCA not existed? I agree that it is currently more or less useless, but let’s not neglect to mention the fact that in the age of Napster, when content sharing hardly even required a download, the music industry was saved by measures that prevented content sharing. Say what you want about Apple being three inches away from implanting a computer chip in your brain; if it wasn’t for their iPod/iTunes interface, the only real revenues musicians would see would be from ticket sales (which, in theory, would dwindle if you could get live videos for your iPod for free online without the hassle of converting them).

  2. to beerphilospher: said

    shouldnt the artists themselves try to find a way to maintain the viability of their industry – not leave it to apple?

    • thebeerphilosopher said

      Is it a football player’s responsibility to maintain the viability of the NFL? No, that’s the NFL’s responsibility. The football player’s only responsibility is to play football. It’s up to the NFL and the NFLPA to figure out all the licensing, ticket sales, marketing, etc. — the things that keep the NFL “viable”. Likewise, the responsibility of the artist is to make music. It’s their only responsibility. If they create a sellable product, it is the responsibility of the record company, the artist’s manager, the vendors (like Apple), and the venues to keep the industry afloat.

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