Guilty Regardless of Innocence

If you didn’t know it already, the recording industry (RIAA) thinks we’re all crooks and are responsible for their lousy bottom line. And the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) believes all you crooks now have your eye on their movies. According to the MPAA, 25% of the people surveyed recently have downloaded a movie, a number they expect to grow as broadband connections become more common. What’s worse, they say that all this downloading was responsible for a drop in movie admissions during 1993.

Both the RIAA and MPAA have high powered lobbyists with lots of money and so they’ve bought some Congressmen to pass some laws to put you in jail if you illegally download music or movies. However, these new laws also allow the entertainment companies to block you from exercising your legal rights to do things like record television shows or transfer music from a CD you buy to a portable player like an iPod.

A few years back Congress passed the Digital Millennium Copyright Act which, among other things, made it illegal to bypass copy protection even if the purpose was legal – like exercising your fair use rights in the classroom. Coming soon is a new "flag" in digital television broadcasts which can be used to activate circuits in recording devices blocking the capture of the program. Now the Senate is considering a bill that goes even further. The Inducing Infringement of Copyrights Act allows the entertainment to sue any person or company that "enables" someone to copy digital material. The bill is written so broadly that it covers everyone from Grokster to Apple (iPods "enable" copiers) to the friend who tells you how to a scene from a DVD.

I don’t know which is worse, the entertainment megacorps who want to restrict all their content and charge by the play or the members of Congress who take their money and then squeeze all the life out of the copyright laws. This particular law is just the latest in a series of restrictions on fair use after two others passed last month with no hearing or public comment. Your "representatives" at work.

In the end, however, all of this crap is going to backfire on the entertainment conglomerates. The fat heads in these companies (and their pet Congressmen) need to learn that you can pass all the laws you want but it isn’t going to work. The harder the industry makes it for people to use the disk or download they paid for, the more likely they’re going to piss them off. And at that point, people will find a way around the barriers and ignore the laws. This is not the way to win the hearts and minds, much less the money, of your customers.