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12/03/2003 Archived Entry: "DMCA"

Jon Johansen is back in court. He's the Norwegian student who was tried -- and acquitted -- for writing software to let DVDs be played on a Linux computer.

While the tech media get it right, the mainstream media continue to display an appalling ignorance of Johansen's DeCSS, referring to it as a tool to "copy" DVDs. As Wendy (and others) pointed out almost four years ago, this is nonsense. You don't need DeCSS to copy a DVD, any more than you need a Captain Midnight Secret Decoder Ring to Xerox a secret message written on paper.

Fortunately the Norwegian court, showing rare perspicacity, understood the distinction between copy-protection and playback-protection, and agreed that Johansen was entitled to view his DVDs on his computer, regardless of what the Motion Picture Association of America wants.

American politicians, on the other hand, continue to display less computer savvy than Fred Flintstone. Acting at the behest of the MPAA and RIAA -- among others -- they passed the draconian Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA), which criminalized hypothetical acts and which has, predictably, been perverted to ridiculous ends:

* Diebold attempted to silence activists who were criticizing its e-voting machines;

* Best Buy tried to use DMCA to prevent a web site from publishing their sale prices;

* Chamberlain tried to block a competitor from making a replacement for its garage door openers.

Expect more to come. DMCA is Congress' gift to those who want to shut out competition, close off debate, and stifle computer innovation.

I don't know why I expect these techno-cretins to consider the consequences of their law-making. Hell, they don't even read the laws that they pass...like the Patriot Act. They wouldn't think of signing a contract which risks their own home without reading it, but they'll blithely imperil the homes, livelihoods, freedoms, and very lives of hundreds of millions with less than a casual glance.

That's why in five states (Michigan, Delaware, Illinois, Maryland and Virginia) it is illegal to use a firewall to protect your computer, thanks to the so-called "Super DMCA" which the MPAA is lobbying hard to pass everywhere.

Do you think the MPAA cares? Do you think Congress cares? I'll say it again: these drooling politicians are not looking out for your interests. They're not even looking out for the "public interest," whatever the hell that means. They are looking out for the interests of the strongest lobbyists, and let me tell ya, Bunky, that ain't you.

Meanwhile, Jon Johansen is lucky to not be living in the "land of the free." He stands a good chance to win MPAA's -- oops, Økokrim's -- appeal of his acquittal.


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