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Watch the Watchmen

May 14, 2010

In case the linkage between the Copyright/content industry and privacy weren’t clearly drawn enough, one might consider this.  The RIAA just won a significant victory in its lawsuit against the company that operates LimeWire for inducing copyright infringement.  Because this decision gives the RIAA an enforcement victory, the RIAA may continue to clutch at the vestiges of the past model.  Forget the potentially legitimate uses that LimeWire users may or may not have had.  Never mind the fact that file-sharers may actually pay more for music than the average non-file-sharer (a result of the previously ignored fact).  Pay no heed to the fact that copying and infringement generally are going to find a new technological architecture (e.g., BitTorrent, which persists to this day, with or without The Pirate Bay) through which to share those files.  And definitely don’t take into account the upside of technologies such as LimeWire that the RIAA undoubtedly experienced in attaining vastly expanded audiences and increased overall popularity of its artists.  That is why this win is scary: not because of its effects on LimeWire, but because it makes the RIAA and its member companies much more institutionally capable of justifying the old model of legal enforcement in blithe ignorance of those much more pertinent considerations.

As evidence of the fantasy, authoritarian/coercive business strategies the content industry is determined to employ, the ever-astute Cory Doctorow reports that the FCC has given Hollywood permission to activate the “Selective Output Control” technologies in your physical television.  “SOC” involves invisible flags and signals layered into the content, that would allow the MPAA to remotely deactivate parts of your home theater, depending on what you’re watching.

The FCC (and the candy-ass consumer electronics companies) allowed for Selectable Output Control to be inserted into your devices even though they claimed all along that they would never allow it to be used. Read your Chekhov, people: the gun on the mantelpiece in act one will go off in act three. Allowing the MPAA to get SOC in your set-top box but ‘never planning on using it’ is like buying a freezer full of chocolate ice-cream and never planning on eating it.

Now here’s the really scary part: I’m not just talking about TVs and set-top boxes here. This stuff is targetted squarely at operating system vendors. Both Apple and Microsoft have enthusiastically signed onto adding DRM to their OSes in order to comply with HDCP, DTLA and other ‘device-based’ DRMs.

Now that Big Content is more injured and desirous than ever, and it is deploying its own form of “self-help” that is cleverly branded and sold to platform operators as “feature sets,” they have effectively positioned themselves to be their own ultimate arbiters (in a literal sense) of what you watch on your own devices.  Now who is watching who?


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