Last week, we discussed Microsoft's patent filing on a content distribution system
that counted heads and charged license fees accordingly. Utilizing the Kinect or some other unnamed technology, Microsoft had the beginnings of the copyright industries' wildest dreams: an opportunity to treat the public's living rooms like theaters and collect "admission" from every viewer.
Rick Falkvinge has amusingly pointed out that "prior art" exists for this "Content Distribution Regulator"
-- in the form of a satirical piece published at BBspot (and covered here
years ago, noting that it "hit too close to home") five years before Microsoft's filing.
Six years ago, a satire site wrote a story about how the copyright industry wanted more money if you invited friends to watch a movie in your living room. This notion has now been patented in new technology: automated headcounts coming to a living room near you, to enable new forms of restrictions. Apparently, the copyright industry takes six years to catch up with the very worst satire of it.
The satirical piece Falkvinge quotes deals with the MPAA trying to push through a bill that would allow it to take control of people's living rooms and treat them like theaters
The MPAA is lobbying congress to push through a new bill that would make unauthorized home theaters illegal. The group feels that all theaters should be sanctioned, whether they be commercial settings or at home.
This paragraph in particular is eerily prescient:
The bill would require that any hardware manufactured in the future contain technology that tells the MPAA directly of what is being shown and specific details on the audience. The data would be gathered using various motion sensors and biometric technology.
Sounds exactly like Microsoft's idea, doesn't it? In fact, it sounds close enough that you could argue that it should invalidate the patent in question. Either way, there's no way the MPAA isn't hoping this comes to fruition. Sure, money can be made by producing new movies but it's so much simpler to charge people over and over for the same item. Various format changes over the years have resulted in some double- and triple-dipping. Digital distribution, combined with Microsoft's consumer-unfriendly device, takes rentals into "real money" territory and very possibly will take digital purchases in that direction as well. Here's a quote from the satire that may as well be real:
"Just because you buy a DVD to watch at home doesn't give you the right to invite friends over to watch it too. That's a violation of copyright and denies us the revenue that would be generated from DVD sales to your friends," said Glickman. "Ideally we expect each viewer to have their own copy of the DVD, but we realize that isn't always feasible. The registration fee is a fair compromise."
We've heard wording like this before, where industry heads claim some irrationally high license fee is a "fair compromise." It's viewed as fair by licensing agencies because if they were able, they would have charged much, much more.
Falkvinge points out that those satirizing these industries may just be unwitting futurists:
So be careful when you write satire about the madness and delusions of the copyright industry (and that certainly isn't hard – more often than not, ordinary journalism will do fine). Either tread very carefully, or start a little stopwatch the next time you publish satire about what that parasitic, shameless industry will think of next.
This is a fact. The content industries' love of licenses (and the ability to charge multiple times for the same content) has made it into an easy punchline. Beyond the satire Falkvinge quoted are other examples demonstrating that your average citizen already
recognizes the colossal overreach of these industries and the absurdity of the licenses connected to each form of artistic expression they cover.
Earlier this year, sportswriter Mike Tanier used public performance licensing
(namely, the violation of these licenses) as the lynchpin for his plan to rid the NFL of replacement referees.
If the crowd at an NFL game sings "Hey Jude," television networks will be stuck broadcasting "Hey Jude" without the rights-holders permission. The sound editors are pretty good at obscuring the B.S. chant, but that only takes a little bit of white noise. Try editing away one of the most recognizable melodies in the world on live television. The broadcast will sound like it is coming from Venus. But if the NFL doesn't drown out the singing, someone big and powerful is going to show up at league headquarters in a suing mood.
When you've got sportswriters using aggressive licensing issues as a punchline, you know the it's reached critical mass. Not only is a sportswriter skewering performance rights organizations, the NFL's copyright paranoia, the Beatles' fierce grasp on its catalog and the overreaction of all these entities to "unlicensed" use, he also laying it out there confidently, expecting his audience to recognize the ridiculousness of it all without needing to resort to pages of footnotes and links to relevant legal information. It's obvious to everybody but the licensing agencies how utterly preposterous this all is.
Need another example of this common knowledge? Just recently, a piece at famous humor site McSweeney's recasted Gil Scott-Heron's famous phrase, explaining exactly why
"the revolution will not be televised." Here's a few choice quotes from a much longer piece (all of it worth reading):
The revolution will not be televised due to our blackout policy. Because the revolution is taking place in your market, you will be unable to watch the revolution. Instead of the revolution, the classic Billy Bob Thornton/John Cusack film, Pushing Tin, will be televised.
The revolution will not be televised, but it will be available for streaming on Hulu.com seven days after the revolution takes place.
The revolution will not be televised because of a dispute between the revolution and DIRECTV. If you'd like to see the revolution, please call DIRECTV and demand that they put the revolution back on the air.
The revolution will not be televised, but if you have a cable subscription, you can log in to WatchRevolutions.com and use their authenticator to watch the revolution. Just provide your username and password, and you will have access to the revolution live, plus alternate angles, commentary, and the ability to share your login with up two more IP addresses.
With digital distribution, each iteration is subject to its own limitations and restrictions, just the way the content industries prefer it. As the shift continues in this direction, I would expect the major players to continue their march into brave new licensing schemes far surpassing satirists' most fevered dreams. They control the licenses they've "sold" their customers and have shown they have absolutely no qualms about abusing consumers in order to squeeze a few more dollars out of the content. Microsoft's filing turns what was originally a series of punchlines into a very plausible glimpse of the future.