Archive for May, 2009

Ars Technica on the Theater of the Absurd

Wendy Seltzer characterized the process as the theater of the absurd, and she’s very much correct. This really is theater, and bad theater. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act prohibits bypassing any technological measure that protects copyright on media; for example, most DVDs are protected by programs, and you’re not allowed to circumvent those programs even for uses that should be legal. Every three years, the Copyright Office has hearings to decide who should be allowed to circumvent those protections under what circumstances.

The process is something of a farce. The industries provide no *evidence* that they’ve been harmed or that they will be harmed by allowing these exemptions. They seem to have a knee-jerk reaction that any sign of compromise is weakness. They won big with the Digital Millennium Copyright provision, to the detriment of public interest, in my view. They can afford to be magnanimous in these instances. But they refuse.

No, they insist that if any type of getting to the material is available, then there’s no need to circumvent, no matter the situation, no matter the cost. Their big solution for professors that wants to use film clips: take a camcorder and film the TV. That’s complete drek. As Jonathan Band (representing the American Library Association) pointed out, if that was good enough, why have the DMCA at all?  The easy answer is, it’s not good enough. In my time working tech support, working with digitization, working with libraries and academics who study preservation and digitization and culture and all of the related subjects, I can say with confidence that it’s not good enough. And in the long run, it is the public that is going to suffer.

This is upsetting to me. The exemptions requested would not harm the industries in the least. More importantly, they would not harm the creators in the least. Quite the contrary, there is every possibility that creative people and educators could be greatly helped by allowing some of the exemptions.