Internet 1, Big Copyright 0

Some 11 and a half years ago, I was mad enough about a story in the news that I stayed up until 3:57 a.m. (according to the timestamp on the file) to write a column about it. That issue was a case called Universal v. Reimerdes, in which a federal judge had ruled it illegal to distribute the DeCSS DVD-unlocking software.

I knew that the Digital Millennium Copyright Act’s “anti-circumvention” provisions made such a ruling possible. But it was something else to see it applied to a program with obvious fair-use potential–and to have people then act as if it were entirely feasible to halt the distribution of that file over the Internet. I just had to write about something so insultingly unfair and mind-boggingly stupid… assuming I could get the importance of it across to people who had never heard of DeCSS or the DMCA:

Last Thursday, a judge in New York City ruled that an obscure magazine called 2600, based in Middle Island, N.Y., can’t post an equally obscure program, DeCSS, on its Web site, or link to other sites that offer it. Few people have used this software, which unlocks a DVD movie’s encryption, and not many more seem to care.

They should. This lawsuit is all about the mix of fear and greed that is driving the entertainment industry to put tighter and tighter locks on its products–and whether consumers get to do anything about it.

That August 25, 2000 column in the Washington Post was the first of many copyright rants I’ve had occasion to write. A lot has changed since then–DeCSS, of course, never disappeared and has since been replaced by better software that I’ve used to make copies of my DVDs to watch on laptops without optical drives–but one thing had not. The entertainment-industry firms that had lobbied for the passage of the DMCA and cheered the DeCSS verdict had kept on getting their way in Washington. Never mind the larger size of the tech industry; at worst, Big Copyright might lose a round after an egregious overreach, but that setback would then go largely unrecorded.

That changed this week, thanks to a storm of protest over the Stop Online Piracy Act and its Senate counterpart, the Protect IP Act. Both would have turned the Internet’s Domain Name System into a censorship mechanism; the former would have also given copyright owners a financial kill switch for sites accepting user-generated content. And both looked set to sail through Congress until people noticed and started getting righteously fed-up, culminating in yesterday’s blackout protests at sites from Wikipedia to WordPress.com.

Those two bills have since taken a public beating–not just on tech-news sites, but on the evening news–and sponsors of each have been rushing to hit the Undo button on their support.  To judge from the more delusional press releases issued over the last 48 hours, I’m not sure that Hollywood even knows what hit it.

I would have liked to have seen this moment happen back in 2000, but this year will do.

About these ads

Weekly output: New-computer setup, Facebook Timeline, Twitter custody, podcast (plus republished CEA TE posts)

I wasn’t quite as productive over the last work week of the year as this list might suggest–I finished one of these items last week and had most of another done by them as well.

12/27/2011: New Computer? Same Old Setup Issues, CEA Digital Dialogue

From 2005 to 2010, I did a “how to set up your new Windows or Mac computer” guide for the Post every December. This year’s version ran on CEA’s blog instead; in addition to having fewer ads around it, it revises some of my advice for Win 7 users (such as using LibreOffice instead of OpenOffice as a free Microsoft Office alternative) and incorporates new suggestions for Mac users to compensate for problems in Apple’s OS X Lion.

12/27/2011: Facebook’s Timeline: We Are All Historians Now, Discovery News

At first I thought I’d hate the new Timeline profile format (in part because of the overwrought predictions made about how it would forever change our lives). But after playing around with it a week, I realized that it’s a neat way to tell people about the pre-Facebook parts of your personal history–as long as you remember that new “Life Events” are public by default, and that it’s not a bad thing to keep some mystery about your life.

12/29/2011: New Job-Divorce Dispute: Twitter Custody, Discovery News

The dispute between PhoneDog Media and tech writer Noah Kravitz over who owns the Twitter account Kravitz created and ran–under PhoneDog’s instructions, the wireless-news site says–and then kept for himself after leaving the company, but it didn’t vault into mass-media headlines until the New York Times ran a story about it right after Christmas. That’s when an editor asked if I could opine on the subject; having some experience with the virtues of keeping a Twitter identity separate from one’s employer, I was happy to oblige.

12/30/2011: Rob’s December Podcast: 3D TV, Holiday Sales Trends and CES, CEA Digital Dialogue

Tech commentator Mario Armstrong has interviewed me on one show or another many times before; finally, I was able to return the favor by chatting with him a few days before Christmas about the holiday sales prospects for various tech gadgets–and the odds of people having trouble setting them up after taking them out of the box. Elsewhere in the podcast, I relate the history of CEA’s soon-to-end Tech Enthusiast program, offer a few predictions about CES and make a disturbing confession about my own experience with 3-D TV technology.

And speaking of that transition at CES, the folks there also re-posted all of the columns I did for the TE site on CEA’s regular blog a few days ago. Here they are, from newest to oldest:

  • 12/5/2011: Why You Keep Reading These Privacy-Scare Stories How bad habits in business and journalism lead to panicked coverage of cases like Carrier IQ and Google’s Street View “spy-fi” debacle.
  • 11/28/2011: TV Screen Sizes: 30 Is The New 20 Now that flat-panel TVs have become a commodity product, the minimum size is creeping up–and some intermediate sizes seem to be getting squeezed out too.
  • 11/21/2011: Gadget-guide Guidance Why you shouldn’t put too much trust in all of those catalog-style “what to get” pieces that pop up around the holidays with well-meaning advice on giving tech gifts.
  • 11/15/2011: Fading Flash And Other Media Missteps With Adobe ending development of the mobile version of the Flash player, it looks increasingly like we’ll be stuck using apps to view name-brand video on mobile devices and other non-computer gadgets.
  • 11/8/2011: A Cord-Cutting Toolkit: What kind of video hardware can help you close your cable or satellite-TV subscription in favor of over-the-air and Internet programming. (This is an update of an earlier how-to by me.)
  • 10/31/2011: SOPA: Copyright Overreach, Version 2.0: My denunciation of the “Stop Online Piracy Act,” later turned into an op-ed in Roll Call.
  • 10/25/2011: Happy Tenth Birthday, iPod! Now Please Go Away: Now that the iPod is 10 years old, what are the odds of that entire category of music-playing hardware surviving for another 10 years in the market.
  • 10/17/2011: PROTECT IP, Latest Reason To Beware of Product Design By Congress: The Protect IP Act, the not-quite-as-awful Senate version of SOPA, fits into a long and sad history of legislation written without much comprehension of the underlying technology.
  • 10/11/2011: What’s Next for the Digital Camera? Four suggestions for digital-camera manufacturers hoping to stay competitive when smartphones take increasingly appealing pictures and allow quick and easy online sharing.
  • 10/3/2011: Decoding the demo: five sales pitches to doubt After you sit through enough new tech-product launches, certain arguments start to sound a) alike and b) unpersuasive.
  • 9/26/2011: The Flattening Price of Flash: The most important number in consumer electronics may be the average price of the flash memory used in everything from laptops to smartphones–and it’s about to get a lot cheaper still.
  • 9/19/2011: How Dead is the Disc? With Netflix increasingly anxious to get out of the DVD business, what sort of a future is there for physical storage formats–and should we be happy about this trend?
  • 9/12/2011: 3-D TV and 3D Technology Why 3-D technology hasn’t made much of a dent in the HDTV market, and how it might yet start showing up in more people’s homes.

Weekly output: Flash, Android tablets, SOPA, Microsoft stores, Metro

News flash: I haven’t been writing as often here. That’s a logical outcome of having more places willing to pay me to write, but at the same time I feel like I’m committing a blogging foul by letting this go dark for a week or two at a stretch. At the same time, I’ve realized that keeping up with my scattered output can’t be that easy for interested readers–I can’t always remember what I’ve written over the last two weeks.

(I point to my work on Twitter and my Facebook page, but good luck finding those links later on at either site.)

So I’m going to do a post each week wrapping up my work. That will ensure there’s something new here each week, and it will give me a spot to share some insights about how each post/article/Q&A/podcast/speech/interpretive dance/etc. came to be. (Credit for this idea and the structure I’m using goes to Brett Snyder’s Cranky Flier blog, which runs a “Cranky on the Web” post each Saturday noting where he’s written or been quoted.) Yes, the fact that this exercise may better promote my work and myself has not escaped my attention.

Nov. 15: “Fading Flash And Other Media Missteps,” CEA Tech Enthusiast (subscription required) CEA Digital Dialogue

A follow-up to an earlier post on Discovery News about Adobe’s decision to stop developing mobile versions of its Flash Player, in which I note some possible downsides of having to rely on a universe of apps for name-brand video on mobile devices and other non-computer gadgets.

Nov. 16:  “Why Android Tablets Can’t Catch A Break,” Discovery News

I’d meant to write this review of the Vizio Tablet earlier, but other events kept bumping it aside. The upside of that was that I could incorporate some extended observations of Vizio’s marketing and the broader state of the tablet market into the piece.

Nov. 18: “Online Piracy Act Is Copyright Overreach,” Roll Call

This is an updated version of a post I did for Tech Enthusiast two weeks earlier. CEA–no fan of the Stop Online Piracy Act–wanted to get the post a broader audience and sold Roll Call on running it. (CEA and I came to our dislikes of this foolish bill separately, but I don’t mind their efforts resulting in my first print appearance since April.)

Nov. 19: “A Store That’s The Apple of Microsoft’s Eye,” Discovery News

I trekked out to Tysons Corner to see Microsoft open its 14th retail store, the first anywhere along the Northeast Corridor. My first impression was probably yours: It’s a lot like Apple’s stores. My second: The Microsoft Store presents a tough critique of the PC business as we’ve known it.

Nov. 19: “How D.C.’s Metro Opened Up Its Data,” ReadWriteWeb

I started this post months ago; after my editor told me “no rush here,” I took advantage of a liberal deadline to over-report the piece. So, please, ask me an obscure question about Metro, transit-data feeds or mapping applications.

Updated 1/31/2012 with links to non-paywalled versions of the Tech Enthusiast links.