Yet Another Example Of Why Lawmakers Need A Better Understanding Of Technology

from the working-on-the-impossible dept

Politicians and technology are generally a bad combination, often leading to ridiculous laws and even more ridiculous statements. Tim Lee is pointing out one example, while asking why our elected officials don’t have more tech savvy staff to prevent them from making statements saying that the impossible is possible. In discussing copy protection, Rep. Cliff Stearns is quoted as saying: “The first question I have is whether we have gotten any closer to technology that would allow a limited number of protective copies to be made of copyright-protected works…. I would like to know about the state of technology in this area. I can’t think that this is not a solvable challenge. Why don’t we make it the copyright equivalent of the race to the moon. We went to the moon almost 40 years ago?it seems to me technology should afford a means of limiting the number of copies we can make of a protected work.”

Tim does a good job of explaining that making an uncopyable file is simply impossible. The whole point of computing is based on copying. If it’s a digital file, it’s copyable. Even more to the point, even if it’s “protected” by some sort of technology, at some point, it needs to be unwrapped to be viewed or heard — and there’s always going to be a way to capture (and copy) that data. Tim is hopeful that politicians will start to realize that Hollywood’s line of reasoning about copy protection is bogus (which might be helped along by Hollywood’s own misguided attempt at building their own copy protection technology). It would be good if he was right, but I’m less optimistic. The final sentence from Stearns that Lee quotes is: “Absent promising news on the technology front, I assume we will have to allow the legislative process to work and see if that will yield a solution, although perhaps an inelegant one.” In other words, if the technology doesn’t work, rather than seeing what new business models the market creates, the lawmakers will just start making “inelegant” laws over this — which likely means stringent punishment for infringement in an effort to protect an increasingly obsolete business model. We’ve seen this before from politicians who just want to start passing laws, even as they admit those laws are probably the wrong solution.

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Comments on “Yet Another Example Of Why Lawmakers Need A Better Understanding Of Technology”

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Mitch (profile) says:

Re: if technologists can do everything...

OK Mike, so how can the industry make a foolproof method of preventing copywritten artistic material from being copied? You say if it is digital it cannot be protected, so what business model can achieve fairness to the creators, who are both trying to get popular and still make a living, and corporations who want to make some dough marketing their work, so what is your solution, or are you just in a “give it to me for free” mode?

75911 says:

Re: Re: if technologists can do everything...

Server technology….. Spunky’s comment above is a good representation of what we need to do in order to protect data. The only way I can see the protection of data a reality is to remove distributed data sources. No more cds or DVD media, the only way to get anything is to order it on a subscription basis from a service provider. Servers would authentication users, and allow them access to streaming services. Obviously this won’t work for major applications like OS or Office applications, but it might be feasible for games, music and movies. We would need to improve data transfer rates. As I’m writting thing Does anyone think that this is a potentially feasible solution?

Sissy Pants says:

Re: Re: Re: if technologists can do everything...

NOPE! There is no known way to make sure the information isn’t copied. Obviously. Think about it… If your speakers play it or your monitor shows it, you can capture it. Streaming media can be captured just like anything else…

If you can’t beat em, join em. Once the record compainies and “Hollywood” realize this they’ll make a lot more money. Make everything available. Make it cheap, and useable on any medium.

ITunes is a perfect example. If they made it so you can download a song and play it on anything you want they would sell a lot more copies. Instead they limited themselves by trying to keep people from making copies and sending them to friends, or even putting them on a non IPod device.
WHY? You’ve just limited your demographic. And, it doesn’t work! You can get a FREE utility that can change it from MP4 to MP3. So the people that don’t know you can decrypt it don’t buy the music and the ones that do, distribute it anyways…


Big Boy says:

Re: Re: Re:2 if technologists can do everything...

I would like to point out that perhaps the reason iTunes has the protections it does is because that was the only way that Apple could get the record labels to agree to digital distribution in the first place. Sure it doesn’t hurt Apple to put those protections in, but don’t think for a second that they were the driving force behind the protections. I’d wager that if it weren’t for Apple negotiating with the record companies, the protections would be a lot more stringent than they are.

Mike (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 if technologists can do everything...

It seems that this is indeed “feasible.” The question is: will people pay for it? My guess is that not enough would pay in order for anyone to make anything close to the profits that are realized today.

That’s the wrong comparison. The comparison isn’t between what people are making today and what they could make with this new model, but between what they’ll be making if they continue down this path of denying customers what they want… and what they could make with this new business model.

Also, I disagree with your assessment of potential profits. I think they could make a lot more. As I said, there would be fewer mega super stars, but *many* more successful musicians, and that opens up a LOT more opportunity for widespread profits. Because the music spreads a lot farther, there are huge opportunities, that I think would easily surpass what the industry makes now.

Of course, that’s a matter of opinion, but if you look at every time the music industry has freaked out about a new technology that would “destroy” their profits while making it easier for people to listen to music in the way they wanted, the opposite has happened. It’s always increased demand and increased profits, and I’d bet that the same would happen if this business model were put in place.

Orge says:

Re: Re: Re:3 if technologists can do everything...

Maybe if movie stars and other performers weren’t so greedy asking for $10,000,000 pe picture, others wouldn’t have to worry about losing money because companies could then afford to sell their products for less to recooperate costs and people would be willing to buy a great product at a reasonable price. I know that once I made enough money, I was very much willing to but licensed versions of software instead of downloading it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: if technologists can do everything...

How about BitTorrent? They use users to provide bandwidth for sending out information, and everything is faster. Uses less bandwidth for the company unlike iTunes Music Store. If they combined both iTunes and BitTorrent, there could be growth.

Hollywood has got to give up on trying to hold back technology. With Napster hitting the forefront of “illicit sharing,” Hollywood buckled and rebuked. It shouldn’t have to. They just have to embrace the technology and help shape it. Work with BitTorrent, work with iTunes, whatever is out there, help create a new way of doing things.

And anyway, if you think about it, piracy is to copyright protection as ying is to yang. Can’t have one without the other.

carrier lost says:

Re: Re: if technologists can do everything...

what business model can achieve fairness to the creators…?

The Google one.

Before the internet, before Google, it was impossible to search for information like we can now. Some would say that that type of search capability would be worth money. How much? How about $5 a keyword? Who knows. The point is, we have it now, provided for free.

In other words, if $5/keyword search existed before Google, given the record industry’s model, then the established search companies insisting on their $5 would be going to Congress and demanding that something be done about this free search.


Boo says:

Re: Re: Re: Business Model

It already changing. global music sales are way way down. people are going to see more and more live music and paying a lot more for it. artists are bypassing record lables and providing downloads for free…

theres more to come. think about it – if u2 released their entire back catelog for free download on a web site, how much would people pay to have their adds on that site? how many more people would listen to them and become fans? would ticket sales go up? would merchandise sales go up? what about endorsement deals and website tie-ins? would the net revenue gain be worth more than the ?1 per album or whatever tiny percentage they get now? the record industry is the middle man and its about to be cut out. it’s the future, and its good!

Mike (profile) says:

Re: Re: if technologists can do everything...

OK Mike, so how can the industry make a foolproof method of preventing copywritten artistic material from being copied? You say if it is digital it cannot be protected, so what business model can achieve fairness to the creators, who are both trying to get popular and still make a living, and corporations who want to make some dough marketing their work, so what is your solution, or are you just in a “give it to me for free” mode?

Please. For years and years we’ve been advocating new business models for the industry. This has absolutely nothing to do with “give it to me for free.” The funny thing, first of all, is that everyone always seems to think it’s the *customer’s* responsibility to come up with a new business model, rather than the industry’s. Isn’t that backwards?

But fine, if you want a new business model: here’s one we’ve talked about before that would be simple to implement. Basically, embrace the fact that the music itself is free and can be given away as a free promotional good to sell plenty of other stuff. Once you recognize that the music can’t be protected, but also gives you *free* distribution and *free* promotion, it opens up a wide range of business models, from sponsorships to live performances to merchandise to exclusive access.

One thing to note, in such a business model you don’t have quite the same *mega* rockstars, but you do end up with a lot more successful musicians. It’s also quite likely that the overall pie gets a lot larger, because the actual music part is encouraged to be shared, and that incents other buying behavior. Some bands are already experimenting along these lines.

So, please, don’t accuse us of just “wanting stuff free.” We’ve been advocating business model changes for years.

drewciferian says:

Re: Re: Re: if technologists can do everything...

to add to this, with the advances in digital recording technologies a band can now record an almost “industry” quality cd right on their home PC. Then burn as many copies as they wish to distribute.

They pay for this by as was said by promoting perfomances and selling other merch.

Some labels are already starting to cut deals to get a percentage of artists merch any way so why not just take the easy step and use the music as promotion for the merch.

its easier and cheaper to give away something than to try to come up with a way to try to make people buy it.

A Bismark (user link) says:

Can be done

“Even more to the point, even if it’s “protected” by some sort of technology, at some point, it needs to be unwrapped to be viewed or heard — and there’s always going to be a way to capture (and copy) that data.”

Yes it can be done. If the only place where it is unwrapped is inaccessible. Like in the operating system (Windows Vista) or in hardward like a specialized multimedia chip (?). But again there would always be suckers who can use a camcorder to record it …. 🙁

Swordfish says:

Re: Can be done

Yep, just like the CSS debacle with DVD’s. It and the DMCA were supposed to be the magic pills that kept DVD’s from being copied illegally and only to be used in authorized equipment. Funny thing about that, It only took a few months for one Norwegian hacker to break the code and allow DVD’s to be played on “unauthorized” (read Linux and BSD) computers. Furthermore, even if you don’t use the “illegal” software on Linux/BSD (i.e. libdvdcss2) to defeat the copy protection and play it on your computer, you can still use perfectly legal software to make an exact copy of the dvd (copy protection, FBI/Interpol Warning, and all) to play on your other “authorized” equipment or even give to friends if you so choose. And unless your friends are undercover agents looking to break piracy rings, you’re not going to get caught! (Remember the bootlegged DVD’s of Revenge of the Sith that were released a few weeks before the Movie even came out in theaters? Only a few of those bootleggers were ever caught.) Anyway, the point is that NO MATTER WHAT PROTECTION YOU PUT ON THE CONTENT TO LIMIT PLAYING, IT CAN BE REVERSE ENGINEERED AND IT IS NOT NECESSARY TO REVERSE ENGINEER THE CONTENT PROTECTION TO MAKE EXACT COPIES THAT EVEN INCLUDE THE CONTENT PROTECTION.

Swordfish says:

Re: Can be done

One other thing, there is a digital signal that runs from the back of the computer to the monitor and an audio signal that runs from the back of the computer to the speakers. It would be a fairly easy exercise for an electronics engineer to make a device that plugs in between the back of the computer and the monitor and speakers, commits the digital and audio signals to a hard drive in a single mpeg file and then send the signals on to the speakers and monitor. In fact, the only device necessary would be to run a cable from the video and sound cards to a dvr unit.

Fred says:

Maybe we should deal with the ROOT problem

The root problem is the business model. The recording companies have a product that they are SELLING to us. Maybe they should be providing the product as a SERVICE, not as an ownable product. This doesn’t actually deal with the copy-protection issue, I know, but if they provided the movies and music as an inexpensive service, oh, like maybe the way iTunes, Rhapsody, etc are trying to do. And if they marketed that SERVICE, there would be less propensity to copy the material.

Jim Sewell says:

Re: Maybe we should deal with the ROOT problem

>The root problem is the business model.

Why not do something like the industry did with performing artists? ASCAP and BMI charge a moderate and fair price for people to license the right to use their songs. The guy singing in the bar can’t legally do a public performance of a copyrighted song but these fees cover 90% of the artists and gives him the right to perform it, although I’m not sure the exact details.

They couldn’t make performers stop singing these songs and couldn’t very well enforce it considering the number of people so they found a way to get money from it.

If I could pay US$200.00 to listen to all the songs I want and make all the personal use CDs I want in a year, I’d pay it and it’s $100 more than they would get if I were a ripper/copier type.

Caleb McG says:

Re: Re: Maybe we should deal with the ROOT problem

Yeah, but if there was a flat fee online to buy all the music ever created, there wouldn’t be any more record labels putting out cds because people wouldn’t buy them. And believe it or not, there are people who still buy cds from stores.
It’s pretty much fighting a war that you know you can’t win. Like many have said, even if you have the best ironclad encryption, nothing is stopping anyone from using a decent recording device or capture program to get it from your computer.
Making things cheap would be one resolution I could forsee. I’ve bought about a million DVDs off of amazon just because they were dirt cheap.
I liked this post
“Record Labels/Movie Studios: Worry less about copy protection and more about new ideas/new people/innovation.” They souldn’t put all of this money into trying to stop something that cannot be stopped, but should rather focus on making a better product that people WANT to pay for. Many of times I’ve seen my friends who would usually rip something go out and buy something just because it’s an “owner”.

Common Sense says:

Follow the market

Does anyone remember Divix Movies from Circuit City? If you don’t then let me remind you, THEY FAILED. They did not allow the customer to do what they wanted, namely, watch the movie whenever they wanted. The market moved on and the concept was abandoned.

I feel that the philosophy the “big” media companies are adopting: “We can control customer behaviour” is destined to fail as every other attempt in the past has. if they don’t provide what the customer wants someone else will. It’s just a matter of time.

As has been said here ad nauseum, exploit consumer behaviour, for resistance is futile.

Sissy Pants says:

Re: Follow the market

The whole point is getting the “execs” to realize that there is NO WAY to keep the information on one medium and only playable by one person.

If they ever realize that, they can stop spending money on methods of keeping it in a jar. Let it out, make it easy to get, easy to distribute. They will make more money!

Charge by the song, month, year, whatever! It doesn’t matter. All the record labels have to do is setup one site, with all the music. Don’t use ITunes or Napster… take the middle man out. Make it fast, easy, and cheap. People will go there strictly because it’s what our society wants! INSTANT GRATIFICATION!!

If it’s as simple as google they will make 100 x the money and will care less if what people do with it.

They are losing out by thinking the will beat us.

S says:


I love to read about this because it means that our society is getting more and more intelligent and big companies are going to have to realize it.

Where do these people come from who can break these “protections”. They come from the very society from which the companies hire their employees who create the “protections”.

The very thing that has created this ability to learn is the mass communication on the internet. Which is the very same tool companies use to make money and grow.

The way I see it is that companies need to respect the society from which they hire and they need to respect the tool that makes their money.

Society is bigger and smarter than any one company, the internet is bigger and more plentiful than any one company (except maybe google ).

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