Mar 192002

It was a simple fix to an annoying problem.

I noticed that when I plugged my Sony Playstation 2 into my VCR, which was then plugged into my TV, the audio quality, being the elimination of a background buzzing noise, was eliminated when I played a game. It wasn’t until I tried playing a Disney DVD that I realized the folly of my ways – the DVD playback wouldn’t work! This is because the DVD and Playstation 2 adhered to Macrovision technology. Because of the fear that people might copy DVDs onto videocassettes, even if it is for legal, fair use purposes, this technology prohibits digital playback through a device even remotely able to copy the media. Macrovision, in making my easy fix to an audio problem void for DVD playback, made me very sad.

Disney and a slew of other media giants are trying to make a lot of people very sad. The latest is lobbying for the Security Systems Standards and Certification Act (SSSCA). To summarize this proposed act as briefly as possible, the SSSCA would mandate copy protection features in every piece of hardware and software produced. VCRs. CD-Rs. DVD-Rs. Hard drives. Operating systems. Everything. Got a portable MP3 player to which you’d like to copy a personal CD for personal use? Too bad. Prefer to run Linux on your computer instead of Windows? Sorry – Linux, as a renegade open-source platform operating system, would probably be banned under the SSSCA, too. Violation of these laws would be a felony, by the way, translated as a hefty fine and jail time.

Let’s combine this with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), already in use. Under this act, it is pretty much illegal to even discuss possible copyright circumvention techniques, whether it is for research purposes (i.e. what University Computer Science Professors might do) or to try to reverse engineer DVD playback to play on your Linux Operating System, as a Norwegian teenager, Jon Johansen, did. Incidentally, Johansen is being indicted in Norway due to pressure by the U.S. DVD Copy Control Association for his creation of a way to view DVDs on his operating system of choice, Linux. By breaking into his own property – his own, purchased DVD, his own computer, and his Linux operating system – Johansen broke the law because of the remote possibility that copy protection technology was being violated, despite no evidence that such copying was ever done.

So, should the SSSCA come into being and join forces with the evil DMCA, what will we end up with?

Pretty much a big corporation death-grip control on what media you choose, the hardware you must use and a complete elimination of consumer fair use rights. In other words, we will provide folks like Disney with a substantial way to control technology that they had no part in creating while annoying and alienating consumers (the majority of folks in this society) in the process.

Speaking of control, who is it that champions these laws? Democrats, mostly. You know, the party that is supposed to champion the little guys, not big corporations. A philosophy that, apparently, went the way of the dodo after $24.2 million in party donations by Hollywood and the music industry in the 2000 election cycle. Since the Democrats hold the majority in the Senate, we might see the SSSCA and other laws of its kind pass.

Any law that champions the few against the wishes of the society is dangerous. The SSSCA that puts power in the hands of Hollywood elitists and their cohorts is such a law. Hopefully, someday, we will elect politicians who believe in the will of the people they represent, rather than the corporations who pay them to be animated puppets. Until then, we will have to put our faith in computer geeks like Jon Johansen, who truly are the champions of the little guys.

Ken Hamner is a graduate student studying microbology.

 Posted by at 6:00 pm

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