Most people would consider me a law-abiding, trustworthy person. Most people think they are also law-abiding, trustworthy people “We’re not criminals!” We’re not robbing banks, killing or beating someone, raping, pillaging and plundering, or any of the other myriad things we consider illegal or immoral in society.
Yes, we’re responsible, law-abiding people alright. Unless, that is, you listen to the MPAA, RIAA, Microsoft, Apple, Sony, and other large media, software, or publishing groups and firms. Then you find out that we’re actually sneaking, conniving thieves who are stealing the food from their plates, and are causing the collapse of entire industries. “There ought to be a law!” they cried… and so there are laws. We’re now totally untrustworthy lawbreakers… we’re pirates!
This is probably news to you. You may have heard of “music piracy” or “software piracy” or any of the other “piracies” that get bandied about. What you didn’t know was that this applied to you! That’s right, these groups have managed to turn many of us into law-breakers. Ignorance of the law is no excuse, you’re breaking the law.
How did I become a pirate, or how did any of us manage it? Let’s take it back a few years. I buy a copy of Microsoft Windows 95 and install it on my computer. A few months later, my computer crashes, and I need to replace the motherboard and hard drive. So, I have to pull my copy of Windows 95 out, and re-install everything. Irritating, sure, but not illegal.
Now jump forward to Windows XP. I was no longer allowed to do that. I was supposed to buy a new license in order to reinstall it. Re-using my XP install disk was illegal, according to the licensing agreement – that “Accept” thing you click past without reading all the time. It turned out I didn’t “Buy” the software, I paid for the right to install it on one computer, and only one computer. If I did something like changed the motherboard, or upgraded the CPU, that made it a new computer, and I was supposed to cough up more money for the right to install it on that “new” computer! Now, Microsoft did (after a lot of screams from the tech press) change that slightly – you just had to go through a validation process, which was only moderately less painful than paying for a new license.
Alright, that affected me as a computer technician – someone who has a bad habit of swapping parts in and out of his computer. Something like that only affects you if you happen to have your computer crap out on you, so you’re not a pirate, right?
Wrong. Let’s move on to the next fun part. Have you bought a DVD recently? A music CD? How about downloaded some music for your iPod or an eBook? You have? OK, have you tried to make a back-up copy of it, or change the format so you can use it on something else? If you do, you’re engaging in piracy. That’s right, it’s illegal for you do so. Welcome to the world of “Digital Rights Management!” You’re violating the copyrights if you do, and you’re breaking the law if you use software to break the “digital protection” so you can make a copy!
When I tell people this, I frequently get stunned looks. “No, you’re kidding….right?” is the usual response. No, I’m not kidding. If you use software to copy (or in computer terms “rip”) a CD or DVD, and you used software which “breaks” the anti-copying protection to do so, you’re breaking the law. In fact, even possessing software that can break the anti-copying protections is illegal. Ever share a song from a CD you own with a friend? Ever put your music MP3’s into a shared folder on your home network? You’ve broken the law.
That’s what various industry associations – principally the Business Software Alliance (BSA), the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), and the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) have done. They’ve used their clout from lobbying and campaign donations to get laws passed that protect them – to the point of making most people “criminals.” I was reminded of that (again) when I saw this Techdirt article about Internet site seizures by Homeland Security:
It looks like the four blog/forum sites (RapGodFathers, OnSmash, Dajaz1 and RMX4U) and Torrent-Finder were all lumped together into a single warrant and affidavit. The affidavit was written by a Special Agent with ICE, named Andrew Reynolds, who indicates in the affidavit that he only recently graduated from college (he notes that he’s only been on the job for one year, but before that he was a “student trainee with the group”). Much of the affidavit relies heavily on the MPAA. This fits with what ICE assistant deputy director Erik Barnett said soon after the seizures, admitting that they basically just took what sites Hollywood said were a problem and seized them.
In other words, we now have the government seizing sites simply because an industry association told them it was “a problem” – without actually investigating to see if it was true – and ineptly not understanding the technology to begin with.
Now, I have no problem with copyrights. I’m not a charter member of the “information wants to be free” club, and I have no issues with people getting recompensed for their efforts. What I do have a problem with is the extension of them beyond any reasonable time frame, and the reduction in what used to be considered “fair use.” For example, according to the law right now, this particular post is copyrighted and it remains “mine” for the rest of my life plus 70 years. Assuming I live a “normal lifespan” sometime in around 2100 or so, this will be “public domain.” That’s a big extension from the past, and it’s not to any public benefit. The only ones who are really benefiting from this are the corporations, industry groups, and distant heirs of those who actually did something creative.
The end result of this is that it’s turned most of us, whether we know it or not, into criminals. We’re scurvy pirates!