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October 16, 2003

Enemy flag. Cory Doctorow—novelist, uberblogger, and happy warrior for your rights online—says the impending fight over the odious “broadcast flag” (the latest in the entertainment industry’s seemingly endless series of proposed Business Model Protection Acts) is an significant battle. Cory is one of the sharpest and most decent people I know, and when he says something like this is important, I’m inclined to give it a serious look. Here he is in his own words:
We’re asking for your help with the Broadcast Flag. This is a proposed technology mandate that would give Hollywood studios a veto over the design of the output and recording technologies that get built into DTV receiver —which is by way of saying the stuff that we take for granted on our general-purpose machines, like CD/DVD burners, high-speed cabling standards like FireWire, and so on. This is an unprecedented maneouvre: the Hollywood studios are saying that tech companies should have to get the studios’ permission before releasing new tools to their customers. These are the studios that tried to ban the VCR, that sued ReplayTV over commercial-skipping, that put Fritz Hollings up to the CPDTPA bill, a proposal to make all technologists get the entertainment industry’s approval before producing new equipment.

What’s more, the Broadcast Flag demands that approved technologies will have to be built to be “tamper-resistant.” That means that we’ll have a law that will require an entire class of general-purpose technologies to use only obfuscated, closed-source drivers. That’s right, it bans open source for tech that can be used in DTV applications.

The worst part is: there’s no problem. Hollywood has made more money every single year since the last fight like this, over the VCR. Last year was the movie companies’ best year since 1959—this despite a worldwide economic crisis! Hollywood doesn’t dispute this, but they insist that since there might be a problem tomorrow, they need to take extrodinary measures today. This is ridiculous, of course: it’s like eating your seatmate on the off-chance that your plane will crash.

EFF has been fighting this proposal since day one, marshalling a large oppositional coalition that tore apart the inter-industry consensus that would have made this regime trivial to enact. The Congressman who got the ball rolling backed off from his commitment to requiring the FCC to enacting the Flag, preferring instead to request that they seek comment on it.

Well, the FCC sought comment on this. They asked the public and other organizations to participate in the rulemaking, to help them make up their minds. EFF has been calling on our supporters to send notes into the Commission in opposition to this plan, and we’ve passed over 15,000 faxes onto the Commissioners’ desks.

Numbers count in this fight. When over 700,000 Americans wrote to the FCC on media consolidation, it so alarmed lawmakers that Fritz Hollings (of all people!) called for Congressional action to limit media consolidation. We need lots of people to write into the FCC asking them to set this proposal aside, and we want you to help.

The EFF’s “action center” for this issue is here. Go, fight, win. [05:09 PM]
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Hard-Hitting Moderator: Teresa Nielsen Hayden.

Comments on Enemy flag.:

Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2003, 02:35 AM:

I dunno. I don't want to be responsible for starving all those poor grips and best boys and caterers that appear in those anti-piracy commercials.

* * *

Seriously, I'm motivated to help here, after discovering that *something* I installed recently (probably the new Windows Media Player) also put an obnoxious copy protection thing on my system. It screws with how my CD burner works. I couldn't make a backup copy of my Stuff That Used To Live On Floppy Disks archive CD, probably because one of the floppies I archived had DOS 3.2 or WordStar or something.

PiscusFiche ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2003, 12:37 PM:

Does anyone else find it funny that one industry wants to protect its business models so badly that it doesn't care about screwing up the business models of other industries?

The idea that one group can control ideas and output of those ideas seems pretty horrific. Those ideas COULD be used for illegal means but there's many other perfectly legal uses (such as the backup copies Stefan mentioned) as well. I don't believe in regulating potential theft by limiting technology.

A little something which doesn't often get brought up in piracy stories is that blank CDs and now computer storage devices have a tax built into their price which gets disbursed to the RIAA, precisely because of the piracy issue and the case for potential theft. This money is supposed to compensate record labels and the artists who worked on the albums. In reality, only the top ten percent or so of the artists actually seem to receive the money...but either way, this means that every time I buy a blank CD to burn my digital art onto, or everytime a garage band buys a thousand blanks to fund their own recording, that money goes to the record companies on the off chance that I'm using it for other purposes. Buy a blank CD, fund the RIAA.


Also, regarding those work-for-hire types in the movie industry, playing the poster child for piracy victims: Do they recieve a percentage of the movie profits? (I honestly don't know this, and I would be happy if it were so, but I do doubt it.) Will their wages go up in a similar percentage to actors and directors and producers if a studio makes more money? (Again I kinda doubt it, but we wouldn't have as much sympathy for the super rich actors and directors and producers?) Who gets hurt the most by movie piracy?

BTW, I'm not saying run out and pirate everything because these people make loads of money. My BF works for a video game company, and the recent hacking of the Half Life source code, and subsequent posting of it online was a very big deal for them. But the RIAA and the MPAA have a very vested interest in controlling the technology and I don't trust that their interest will serve technology and advance us. It serves only to control us, their end-user market, and to tell us exactly how we can use their product. Heaven forbid that we start enjoying their product without them seeing extra money for every single usage. And the rhetorical tools they use to manipulate the public are extremely misleading.

Neil Rest ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2003, 12:09 AM:

It's worse than that.
The Internet "is" a set of technical specifications/standards. The great opening we are envisioning threatens most major powers, and though they can be slow to awaken, they are implacable. One of the best ways for the stati (is that the plural of 'status'?) quo to roll over us is to take control of the specs.
After having arrived at this opinion on my own a couple of years ago, I just ran into a link to a detailed essay by John (Autodesk) Warner, The Digital Imprimatur, listing what's going on now.

If we don't fight ver yard, very soon, we've lost.