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moronThe MPAA has, believe it or not, heard you. You want to copy the material you buy, for use in other devices, etc. You want to, as someone once said, be able to “Rip. Remix. Burn.” your media. And why not? You paid for it. MPAA Boss Dan Glickman is actually a proponent of home copying, albeit with a 100% margin $25.00 price tag for you and me to do it, which means that he still doesn’t get it.

Over at NewTeeVee there’s an interesting post by Jackson on the struggle that the MPAA et al have had coming up with a specification for allowing you to make “managed copies” of your purchased content. Of course, the fact that each successive specification is cracked within weeks of its drafting would deter the efforts of any organization compelled by logic and customer responsiveness, but this is the MPAA we’re talking about.

The problem is that the RIAA/MPAA cabal have effectively tied their own hands, by petitioning the supreme court in their fruitless pursuit of Peer-to-Peer networks for a judgment. They may have, way back in 2005, gotten more than they bargained for when Supreme Court Justice David H. Souter said:

“We hold that one who distributes a device with the object of promoting its use to infringe copyright, as shown by clear expression or other affirmative steps taken to foster infringement, is liable for the resulting acts of infringement by third parties.”

Oops. Now the MPAA and electronics manufacturers, under such a sweeping definition, could themselves become liable for the copying and redistribution of material. In fact, they can’t produce a standard which they know has been haxx0red and unleash it on the market.

And as EFF’s Susan Crawford has pointed out, they’re in league with even the network carriers to take us all backward in time. In draft language, the FCC is asserting that it:

(a) has authority to adopt such regulations governing digital audio broadcast transmissions and digital audio receiving devices that are appropriate to control the unauthorized copying and redistribution of digital audio content by or over digital reception devices, related equipment, and digital networks, including regulations governing permissible copying and redistribution of such audio content….

This means that they will be ceaselessly back to the drawing board perfecting easily-hacked technologies, and layering their media with difficult to use interfaces, handshakes, and protocols (as I found out when I had my my run-in with HDCP). The result is that media coming through official retail channels such as Best Buy or the iTunes Music Store that you try to watch on your PVR or HD-DVD player will be more difficult to view and manipulate than the DIVX-encoded material you download by fiddling with a BitTorrent client.

P2P has traditionally existed aside from the mainstream by nature of the fact that it’s a fairly high-friction model for obtaining and viewing digital content. You might not have the right CODEC libraries to view your favourite British TV show, or you might have trouble configuring your linksys router so that all the P2P traffic passes through to the right computer in your house optimally, as examples.

Traditional media (DVDs, Cable TV, etc.) have always dominated the mainstream because they’ve been easy to handle, easy to watch, and of course easy to get. For some of us, that convenience in itself is the primary value of such media, and why lots of us still buy stuff at Best Buy even when we can and do also use file sharing networks like eDonkey.

But imagine if the stuff you bought at Best Buy no longer worked together without Herculean effort. Imagine if the HD-DVD you brought home or the Streamed HD Movie you paid for on your PVR were hobbled by characteristics that made them hard to use. Furthermore, ask yourself why, after ten years of Pay-Per-View Movies, we still have video rental stores?

The answer is the consumer market’s innate resistance to difficulty, and our desire to not have the means in which we consume information dictated by the CEO of some sandbagged, heretofore unknown, media company.

When the media companies set the barriers higher and higher for consuming their material the old-fashioned way, they’re practically begging the mainstream, using the Internet, to route right around them. When they make us all experts in HDCP handshaking, HDMI systems integration, and the finer nuances of Dolby versus DTS Surround Sound, they lower the barriers to grabbing and viewing our entertainment and information on that most dreaded of all platforms: the computer, and the internet.

And despite 20 solid years of effort, media companies have been profoundly unsuccessful in combating what we do on our computers once we get their stuff in our hands. And even with a Bush government, the DMCA, and legions of lawyers they have had little concrete impact except to increase the friction and lower the value of the mainstream consumer media.

I can see this through to its logical conclusion. Computers, software, and the internet will increasingly transact our consumption of movies, music, and what we will one day say we used to call “TV shows”. The big media distribution companies will increasingly become unnecessary, and will have cut themselves out of the action.

And in my view, they’d deserve it.

-Ian.

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