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There is considerable stink in Europe over the major record labels’ introduction of copy-protected CDs. They’re coming to a record store near you. In fact, they’re probably on the shelf right now. You won’t know you’ve bought one until you try to rip an MP3 for your portable or copy it to your hard

drive. In some CD players, playback might be affected.

This is supposedly designed to protect the ownership rights of the artists who create the product, though someone more cynical than me might suggest that it simply protects the major entertainment companies’ stranglehold on the delivery of content.

In other news, GM is pushing for non-removable tires on vehicles because some proportion of the population might want to build their own cars, thus infringing on GM’s intellectual property rights. Highliner will introduce solid blocks of pressed fish to make it more difficult to share with your friends. Wallpaper manufacturers are reinforcing rolls with carbon fibre so they can’t be cut and used to decorate more than one room.

Some people will pirate, therefore all people must live with an inferior product.

What astounds me about the copyright debate is that the two sides continue to argue over how those laws should be applied rather than whether they’re the right laws at all.

They were designed for a different era, when content was bound to a medium. Nothing demonstrates their datedness more artfully than the fact that computer software is treated under copyright laws as literature. That is absurd.

The digital world frees content from medium. Virtually anything can be digitized and delivered as streams of ones and zeros. Content is content — no medium required.

Opponents of draconian content protection laws which stomp on the rights of the public to freedom of speech and expression say Hollywood and Big Music hijacked the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, and they’re right. What they aren’t doing is proposing any workable alternative.

On the software side, there’s an element of self-enforcement. If, for example, you are crazy enough to pirate an SAP installation, when the conflicts inevitable arise, you can’t call tech support to help you out of the morass.

Not so much so books, music and video. Adapting copyright laws designed for a different era is a ham-fisted approach that alienates the user. So what does work?

A couple of years ago, I saw what I believe is the future of the entertainment industry at the Grammy Awards. There was a brilliant collaborative performance. Jill Scott sang — she’s largely irrelevant but for a set of pipes that could rattle the rafters– a song by Moby. He is significant because while his album Play sold something like 30 kajillion copies, what really pays the rent on his Manhattan loft is the fact that all 17 songs were licensed — some many, many times over — for commercial use. The third component was Blue Man Group, contributing its patented dance/percussion/freak show antics. Blue Man Group would be familiar to anyone who’s seen an Intel commercial in the last three years.

Commercial. It used to be a tag that described music as mainstream pabulum. What it really means is that it is used for commerce. It’s a work-for-hire world, baby.

Big Advertising will pay for the big acts. With content separated from the medium, the cost for smaller acts to distribute their product are virtually eliminated — no need to press LPs or burn CDs. Likewise for independent film makers — no VHS tapes or DVDs to copy. The Internet has the power to make Hollywood and Big Music irrelevant.

That is what the debate’s about.

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Dave Webb
Dave Webb
Dave Webb is a technology journalist with more than 15 years' experience. He has edited numerous technology publications including Network World Canada, ComputerWorld Canada, Computing Canada and eBusiness Journal. He now runs content development shop Dweeb Media.

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