The Sound of DRMs • 29 June 2007 • The SnowBlog

The Sound of DRMs


It's a fraught and vexéd business: DRMs, IP and copyright. I find the idea of protecting creative work for a preposterous 75 years after the author's death to be, um, preposterous. As sharp-minded cynics have pointed out, every time Disney's earliest works are about go out of copyright, the term of protection is extended - which is why the U.S. Copyright Term Extension Act is also known as the Mickey Mouse Protection Act. Does anyone really think that work done in 1923 should still be copyrighted until 2023? I thought this sort of thing was about incentives for investment, making sure people had a chance to profit from their work; but will people really stop creating fine new things if they can't be sure that their great-grandchildren will be able to live off the royalties? I doubt it. I think the opposite situation is more likely: if you really thought that three generations down the line your family would still be sponging off what you do now, you'd be too depressed to invent anything. I mean, isn't there something quite sad about the idea that singing Happy Birthday in public requires that a fee be paid, and even though the copyright is of a 1935 arrangement of a 1893 song, it will be 2030 before it can be sung for free. That, as they say in legal circles, is utter pants.

And speaking of inverse incentives, did you know that you're allowed to make a backup copy of any DVDs you own? Or rather, the rapacious IP lawyers who work for the massive media companies haven't yet come up with an argument to prevent it. Well, I made such a copy the other day - mainly because I'm a nerd. So I now own two copies of Hot Fuzz (for the older and more out of touch reader, that's not porn; it's comedy). And which one would I rather play? I would rather play the copy. And why, you ask? Because the software I used to make the copy offered to remove something called PUOs for me. PUOs are Prohibited User Operations. And now that they're gone, I can put the disc in a player and - when the endless legal warnings come up - I can jump past them to the film. That's right, I can thwart the justice system and watch the movie I paid for straightaway. Whereas the lawyers would normally require me to stare at threats of legal action for fifteen seconds first. And it lets me easily jump past the 'advert' telling me not to download pirate movies - you know, the one that equates illegally copying a movie with stealing a car or a handbag - presumably on the basis that every time someone copies a movie, someone else who bought a legal copy has to go without.

I've blogged about the theory of this before, but I have to say the reality is intoxicating: putting a DVD on and having it start ten seconds after the drive door closes. No nagging, no threats, just the film I paid for. And, as one online pundit has asked, has anyone every successfully used as their defence, when charged with copyright violation, the fact that the legal warning at the start of the movie only appeared for one second instead of ten. Or to come at it another way, was it permissible to run off a few thousand copies of VHS movies and sell them, because you could claim you accidentally fast-forwarded past the copyright warnings.

I suppose the thing that annoys me most is that I have to pay money to be nagged about piracy. If I just bought bootleg copies of things, I could enjoy movies in peace. As a marketing campaign, it targets only those people who don't need to hear it. And as part of a disc designed to entertain, a minute or so of copyright nagging leaves a lot to be desired.

p.s. I've just realised that I sometimes write 'disc' and sometimes 'disk'. How positively Elizabethan of me.


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