Sunday, January 22, 2012

Yes, Throw Hollywood Under The Bus

This post has been a long time coming. The seed for this post was planted way back in 1998, when a Democratic President (Bill Clinton) signed into law the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, or DMCA. Among its many far-reaching strictures was the criminalization of the production and dissemination of technology, devices, or services intended to circumvent Digital Rights Management (DRM) features built into digital technology, as well as the act of circumventing said DRM, "whether or not there is actual infringement of copyright itself."

For the first time in this country, a law had been passed that made it illegal for you to open up a device fully bought and paid for by you, and perform certain actions that might alter any built-in functionality, specifically DRM, because Big Content had convinced Congress that their High Holy Intellectual Property had to be protected. And they weren't going to release their High Holy Intellectual Property, particularly digital movies, into the new frontier of the Internets without this protection. No longer were you innocent until proven guilty, you were considered guilty irregardless and thus had to be defended against. Hollywood was convinced that each and every one of us were closet pirates, just waiting for the opportunity to pillage and plunder their High Holy Intellectual Property. And so, instead, they pillaged and plundered us by shoving the DMCA onto us.

And of course there was that criminalization of sharing what you learned, either by basic bits (information and/or software) or hardware. For example, in 2001, Edward Felten (the current the Chief Technologist for the United States Federal Trade Commission) was threatened with a lawsuit because he and his team had broken SDMI digital audio watermarks. Never mind that SDMI had invited this via a contest, but when Felten and his team first attempted to publish their results, they were threatened with a DMCA lawsuit by SDMI and the RIAA (little brother to the MPAA). It took a year and the assurances of the Department of Justice saying Felten wouldn't be sued before their work was published.

And heaven forbid if you wanted to move your DVD-based movie from your DVD player to something more portable that didn't have a DVD disc player, such as using Handbrake to rip your copy of "The Empire Strikes Back" to a digital file that can be played back, on say, the Nook Tablet. Fair use? What's that? You sir, are a criminal for even contemplating such use. Here, let us sell you another digital copy to go on your portable digital device. You haven't paid us enough already through your DVD. We haven't made enough billions to satisfy our insatiable greed.

As with all classic tragedies I didn't really appreciate what had happened with the passage of the DMCA or what I'd given up until much later. Starting in 2007, my loss was driven home by the walled garden Apple built around the iPhone, iPod touch, and later the iPad. I believed the lie peddled by Apple that they needed such draconian controls over software going into the iPhone lest some evil sneak onto the handset and cause grave damage to the AT&T network. I believed that until the iPod touch came out and was thrown into the same restrictive walled garden. The iPod touch had no AT&T network access. Why did it have to be restricted?

Because Apple saw the iPod touch as another big monetary channel for content, specifically games, video and music. Apple at the time heavily pitched the iPod touch as an ideal portable gaming platform against similar devices from Nintendo and Sony. And we all know how locked-down gaming platforms of all strips are. And because Jobs had sold Pixar to Disney the year before (making Jobs Disney's single largest shareholder) the iPhone first came out, Jobs and Apple had every reason to make sure that their iDevices were heavily locked down as portals to their High Holy Intellectual Property just in case they wanted to play iDisney content on iDevices. Can't have Mickey Mouse running loose, now can we. And Apple had the perfect weapon via the DMCA to enforce the lockdown.

The literature of the web is rife with all the jailbreaking and unlocking of Apple devices. And Apple's reaction by updating the OS that ran on the devices to break the jailbreak, and the attempts by Apple to send out the lawyers to stop it. It took an act of Congress (an act of the Library of Congress, actually) in 2010 to allow jailbreaking and rooting of your own paid-for device so that those who had the desire to do so could do with their iDevice as they saw fit. Sorta like what we take for granted with the personal computer.

But all of that pales to insignificance with the recent bald attempt by Hollywood's bought and paid for Democratic congresspeople to shove SOPA and PIPA down our collective throat. As Marco Arment so astutely pointed out, Hollywood, through its goon squad, the MPAA, sees "us as stupid eyeballs with wallets, and they are entitled to a constant stream of our money. They despise us, and they certainly don’t respect us." And on matter how bad they get, we still support them by watching their movies. We willingly and blindly give them the money which they in turn use to gleefully build a digital prison around us.

Until last week, when Democrats in both houses of Congress tried to shove both bills through committee. And then the Net rose up en mass and did something it hadn't done quite before: it simultaneously shuttered quite a few of its better known properties for 24 hours. On 18 January, led by Wikipedia, quite a few big and little websites went "dark" in protest against SOPA and PIPA. In the end quite a few senators and representatives dropped support for both bills, but interestingly enough, far more Republicans than Democrats.

That's because ever since the DMCA was passed the Democratic party has been "bought out" by Hollywood. Hollywood is heavily unionized, and Democrats have historically been the party that supported unions. And it's been a quid pro quo arrangement, especially during the decades when Big Auto was an economic force in this country. But Big Auto collapsed, leaving Hollywood, who, along with the unions, has always been the Democratic parties biggest supporter. And as the years have gone by Hollywood has begun to expect a "return on their investment", especially with regards to donations made by Hollywood.

This was never made more plainer than by former Connecticut Senator, Democrat Chris Dodd, now currently chairman and chief lobbyist for the MPAA, when he was quoted as saying on Fox News:
"Those who count on quote 'Hollywood' for support need to understand that this industry is watching very carefully who's going to stand up for them when their job is at stake. Don't ask me to write a check for you when you think your job is at risk and then don't pay any attention to me when my job is at stake,"
This has further enraged an already angry Internet public, so much so that there's now a petition on the government web site We the People to "Investigate Chris Dodd and the MPAA for bribery after he publicly admited to bribing politicans to pass legislation."

What am I going to do in the mean time? No more movies. I'm already paying $8, $9, and $10/head to see movies in this town, and that's pure crap. No more DVD/Bluray purchases. Whatever I can do to stop willingly pay money to Hollywood, that's what I'll do. Donate to politicians, regardless of party affiliation, but particularly Republican, who are for bringing Hollywood to heel, if not outright breaking them up. There's an unholy collusion between the creation of consumer technology and the creation and ownership of content; Sony is the prime example, but Apple's in there too, if more subtler than Sony. I'd like to see the DMCA either cut back, or better yet, completely repealed.

But whatever it takes, I want  to see Hollywood broken. We really don't need Hollywood, they need us, both as willing buyers of what they're peddling, as well as us being the producers of technology that allows them to create their so-called High Holy Intellectual Property.

I've got more to rant about, such as how government agencies such as the FBI have become little more than an enforcement arm to Hollywood. Make no mistake. SOPA and PIPA isn't about making the world safe for little guys like us. It's all about turning us into little more than digital serfs to Hollywood, and I'll be damned if I'm going to just stand around and watch that happen. Not on my watch.

Update 23 January

An Interested Reader sent these observations to me in an email:
I agree with all of it - except for the very end.

Boycotting 'Hollywood' makes perfect sense. But voting republican because they're less prone to that particular Big Entertainment special interest group is a vote for Big Oil, Coal, Insurance, Military, Church, and other groups that want society remade in their images.

The root of the problem ... is that corporations are people, with the same rights to free speech and association as biological people, but vastly greater resources. Until the huge amounts of money go away, it's just [a] matter of picking whose interests you want to be secondary to. For that, if I had to choose, I'd still say that the democrats are the lesser of two evils.

Ars Technica: Throwing Hollywood under the bus could pay dividends for GOP
Ars Technica: If the A5 makes mobile gaming awesome, why isn't it in the iPod touch?

1 comment:

  1. Bravo Bill, well said. It's about time to get them back on the carpet IMHO.

    ReplyDelete

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