Sunday, 17 February 2008 16:08

RIAA, MPAA: Be Careful what you Wish For

Schemes are being hatched to make it harder and harder to download copyrighted material across the internet.  Seems they will be just as successful as the method to stop people recording CDs to tape in the “old days.”  And just as ludicrous.

In September last year, a plot came to light which planned to tackle video piracy head-on.  The heart of the scheme revolved around a fake video upload site called which planned to trap uploaders and launch legal action against them.  It’s a pity that the owners of the site were a little lax in hiding their identity in the whois database.  Even worse was when ‘naughty lads of the Internet’ managed to obtain around 700MB of internal emails describing the entire scheme.  See here for the details.

More recently, we hear of a scheme to ‘poison’ Torrents by quickly identifying new material, substituting it with unusable but similar material, and then mapping the IP addresses of those attempting to make use of it.  The final step was ‘insisting’ that ISPs bar users identified in this way.  Details here .

Legally, there are a bunch of problems with such a strategy, never mind the simple but effective “innocent until proven guilty!”  More fun would ensue if the ‘naughty lads of the Internet’ managed to convince the blocking systems to take exception to, or even  I can’t see the bans lasting more than about 3 minutes!

The big issue here is the reliance on a basic assumption – that music (and video) downloads are significantly impacting the revenues of the major copyright holders. Laurence Lessig, in his book “Free Culture” (freely available under a creative commons licence here) outlines some very clear reasons why this might not be true.

After all, there are many reasons why people might download copyrighted material.  Perhaps they want to steal it.  Perhaps they would like to try it prior to buying.  Perhaps they can’t afford it – if challenged, they would simply delete it.  Perhaps they already own a copy but are seeking the material in an alternate format.  More importantly, perhaps they wish to create a derivative work – something entirely sanctioned under the law.

Many of the reasons that copyrighted material is downloaded do not contravene the law, but unfortunately the MPAA and RIAA are incapable of anything but black and white.  All they care about is controlling the methods of distribution.

So, we’re left with the question, what if they managed to completely stop all unauthorised downloads, and sales continued to fall.  Who would they blame?

Be careful what you wish for, for it might actually come true.

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David Heath

David Heath has had a long and varied career in the IT industry having worked as a Pre-sales Network Engineer (remember Novell NetWare?), General Manager of IT&T for the TV Shopping Network, as a Technical manager in the Biometrics industry, and as a Technical Trainer and Instructional Designer in the industrial control sector. In all aspects, security has been a driving focus. Throughout his career, David has sought to inform and educate people and has done that through his writings and in more formal educational environments.

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