April 10, 2010

Digital Rights Repression

There's something about the phrase "Digital Rights Management" that gets right up my nose. I suppose it's because it makes it sound as though we have digital rights and other rights, and they are somehow different. The digital age has definitely brought new approaches and new legislation which infringe on our freedoms.

The US Digital Millenium Copyright Act has had a "chilling effect" on free speech by allowing copyright holders to achieve censorship of publication without any prior scrutiny by a court being required. This is very definitely a bridge too far.

Now the UK has gone the same way with the second reading of the Digital Economy Bill. This reading was cynically timed to assure the bill's passage and enactment in the "wash-up" process following the dissolution of parliament prior to the general election of May 6. The most sinister and at the same time the most ridiculous aspect of the Bill is its provision that someone about whom three complaints have been received will be liable to have their Internet services removed - again without the intrusion of any legal process, let alone the requirement for conviction in a court of law. The Bill makes no mention of the collateral damage caused to other people living in the same domicile, nor does it propose any sensible way of stopping such disenfranchised individuals from using the many free wireless access points that are available throughout the world. The law is, in short, an ass.

It's easy to see in both the DMCA and the DEB the hand of corporations seeking to enforce their copyright and bolster their profits. It's also easy to see that the laws were framed by people who either didn't understand the broader implications of their work or who didn't care. The DEB is the brainchild of Lord Mandelson, an effete politician who's too snobby to tread in dogshit and no more a servant of the people than Dick Cheney.

This handover of power to the corporate world has now officially gone way too far. The legal notion that corporations should be granted the same rights as individuals, although enshrined in case law, is fundamentally unconstitutional. Corporations wield a disproportionate amount of wealth and power in today's society. The recording industry lobbied for a levy on blank audio cassettes because (to use their slogan) "Home Taping is Killling Music", yet twenty years later music seems very much alive.

I have railed against the DEB, unsuccessfully. The DMCA is ten years old. I've been a supporter of the open source movement for over twenty years, and I can tell you that it's a harbinger of  new approach. In the short term the corporations may feel they are winning, but in fact they are merely sowing the seeds of their own eventual destruction. You might care to bear that in mind in your investment strategy, if you have one. The music industry is like the boy who cried wolf; pretty soon nobody will care when they get eaten.