(Source: Erin/Sunny Side Up)
Big media petitions Library of Congress to refuse ripping allowance

"Let them eat cake!"
-- traditional French "spoiled princess" tale

The above quote was often misattributed in the French Revolution to Marie Antoinette, whom the French revolutionaries sought to villainize as cruel and aloof.  Today, amidst a sweeping digital revolution, seemingly equally cavalier quotes are flying around, attributed to big media.  But this time around, they're the real deal -- big media literally wants you to repay for content you already own.  

The Recording Industry Association of America and Motion Picture Association of America's homage to "let them eat cake" began with the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) [PDF], which modified Title 17 of the U.S. Code.

The law was an uneasy compromise by the Clinton administration between big media who was clamoring about how rampant copyright abuses were ruining their bottom line, and by internet service providers, who feared big media's well heeled lobbyists would install financially ruinous legal responsibilities on them.  In the end big media received stiff copyright protections on creative works, while ISPs gained a level of immunity from their users' actions (piracy).

But it also installed some Orwellian provisions, making it a crime to remove copyright protection software on content you legally own -- even if that software caused harm to your computer (which in some cases it, in fact, did).

Between 1998 and 2006, the prohibition on burning CDs stood.  Of course a bootleg industry flourished, but makers of burning software had to watch their backs for fear of prosecution and/or imprisonment.

But in 2006 the U.S. Library of Congress added a key exemption, that allowed the practice, including circumventing copy protection schemes for personal use on CDs you legally owned.  The public actually has Sony Corp. (TYO:6758) to thank for that.  Sony BMG's dangerously defective rootkits convinced the LoC that maybe it shouldn't be illegal to allow people to remove unwanted copy protection on content they legal own.

DVD Burning
The MPAA has fought hard to make DVD burning illegal. [Image Source: MiNDFOOD]

However, making backup copies of DVDs and Blu-Ray movies protected by copyright protection software (virtually all of them are) remains illegal.  To be clear, it's the act of breaking the digital rights management (DRM) that's illegal, not the physical act of writing optical media.  But since virtually all movies carry DRM, essentially all creation of backup copies is illegal.  

That premise is a key topic of debate as the LoC mulls a proposal by consumer advocacy group Public Knowledge, to allow DVD/Blu-Ray ripping for personal use of content you own.

The proposal is ardently opposed by the MPAA.  They write [PDF] to the LoC:

Copyright owners include with many DVD and Blu- Ray disc purchases digital copies of motion pictures that may be reproduced to mobile devices and computers pursuant to licenses. Blu-Ray disc purchasers can also take advantage of "Managed Copy" services that are scheduled to launch in the U.S. later this year. Movie distributors and technology companies are also making available services such as UltraViolet, which enables consumers to access motion pictures on a variety of devices through streaming and downloading. Many movies and television shows are also available online through services such as Comcast Xfinity, Hulu and Netflix, or websites operated by broadcasters or cable channels, which consumers can enjoy from any U.S. location with internet access. With all of these marketplace solutions to the alleged problem PK points to, it is unlikely that the presence of CSS on DVDs is going to have a substantial adverse impact on the ability of consumers to space shift in the coming three years.

In other words, they're essentially saying that you should repay for content and/or accept inferior versions of the content that already own (UltraViolet and their ilk often lack the "extras" of a full-fledged ripped DVD) -- if you're lucky.  Of course, if they choose not to support your platform of choice with their locked down content, you're simply out of luck; too bad.

Public Knowledge lambasted the MPAA's claims, stating:

The MPAA had two specific suggestions. First, consumers could re-purchase access to a subscription service such as Netflix of Hulu. They did not dwell on the fact that 1) this would require you to pay again to access a movie you already own; 2) these services require a high speed internet connection in order to work; 3) There is a reasonable chance that the movie you own is not available on any of those services at any given time; and 4) MPAA member studios regularly pull videos that were once available on those services off of those same services.

The MPAA’s second suggestion was even less helpful. In their comments, they pointed to Warner Brothers’ DVD2Blu program. This program allows people to use their existing DVDs as a coupon towards the purchase of a handful of Warner Blu-Ray disks. They did not dwell on the fact that 1) this program is limited to Warner Brothers films; 2) the program is limited to 25 exchanges per household; 3) while some Blu-Ray disks include digital copies that can be moved to other devices, it is unclear how many of the disks in the DVD2Blu program include that option; 4) only 100 movies are included in the entire program; and 5) each exchange costs at least $4.95 plus shipping (which, for the record, is about as much as it would cost to buy the digital file from Amazon.).

The Association of Research Libraries has also back the request for exemption, stating that it would help them replace damaged works. [Ed. - You KNOW how evil libraries are.]

But wait, in MPAA-speak banning customers from fully using their content they legally own "increased customers' options".  They write:

In fact, granting PK’s proposed exemption would be directly counter to the purpose of this rulemaking. It would undermine emerging business models that increase access to creative works in precisely the manner Congress intended the DMCA to promote.

It is clear that access controls have increased consumers' options with respect to motion pictures in digital formats. The Register should not interfere with that progress. Instead, she should endorse it.

Well, they may be half truthful here as it does increase customers options -- their options to pay twice for the same content.  Although, perhaps that useage is a bit disingeneous too, as option typically implies a voluntary choice, not having digital rights management shoved down your throat.

If the RIAA had their way, CD rippers could be sued and fined, and the authors of burning software shipped off to prison.  Jennifer Pariser, the head of litigation for Sony BMG -- the same company that installed those malicious rootkits on users computers -- stated in the 2007 RIAA lawsuit against working mom Jammie Thomas, "When an individual makes a copy of a song for himself, I suppose we can say he stole a song." Making "a copy" of a purchased song is just "a nice way of saying 'steals just one copy'."

RIAA police
Stop citizen! Drop the backup copy, you are under arrest. [Image Source: Sodahead]

In the RIAA and MPAA's world everything would have rock-solid DRM, and if you tried to break it you would be sent to prison.  In this world, you would only rent the rights to see the content for the short time.  Then you would have to repurchase it again, and again.  And if you sang in public, or invited your friends over to watch/listen?  Well, that would mean more fees of course.

Meanwhile the RIAA and MPAA merrily exploit a series of laws in the U.S. and abroad that allow them to steal hundreds of millions of dollars in independent artists' work, by calling the work "unclaimed" and then (legally) pirating it for profit.

Last time the LoC register didn't buy the RIAA's argument to prohibit user rights.  The LoC also sided against big media in allowing YouTube montages and other "fair use" works, consisting of short clips of copyrighted materials.  It should be interesting how things play out this time around, in the very similar debate regarding DVDs/Blu-Rays.

The LoC is also contemplating a proposal by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) to allow jailbreaking of consoles, smartphones, and other devices.  Surprise, surprise Sony is among the prominent members of a big media coalition opposing this idea.  The company has legally harassed PS3 jailbreakers, in some cases even looking to send them to prison.  Their harassment attempts, however, have been met by defiance from the tech community.  

States one prominent PS3 jailbreaker to Sony, "If you want me to stop then you should just kill me because I cannot live without programming, HV and Linux kernel hacking You know who am I and where I live, so come and get me !!!"

Sources: MPAA, Public Knowledge [1], [2], Association of Research Libraries

"If you can find a PS3 anywhere in North America that's been on shelves for more than five minutes, I'll give you 1,200 bucks for it." -- SCEA President Jack Tretton

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