COPYRIGHT MARTIAL LAW

The entertainment industry has so far proven to be completely paralyzed by new consumer technology, unable or unwilling to come up with ways to do business that take changing consumer desires and expectations into account.

Instead, it’s been enriching legions of lawyers – and buying politicians. And it’s been quite successful at both.

The legislators purchased by the entertainment industry are busy crafting a new world in which copyright ownership is all-powerful, overriding your desires, eliminating any rights you might previously have had to use copyrighted material as you see fit, limiting the things that you can do now with your computer or other devices.

Senator Fritz Hollings (Democrat, South Carolina) is pushing legislation which would forcibly implant copy-protection technology into nearly every PC and electronics device sold in America.

Now he and Senator Joseph Biden (Democrat, Delaware) are sneaking legislation through that would ensure that anything you might do to try to avoid the Copyright Police becomes a felony under federal law.

A few months ago Biden introduced a bill titled the “Anticounterfeiting Amendments of 2002.” It originally targeted the kind of large-scale pirates who manufacture fake Windows holograms, similar to laws that criminalize bogus labels on designer wear. At the time, he promised that it would have no effect on digital rights management; it was only intended to cover software and music packaging, a Biden aide told The Register.

They’re liars. Just before it was sent to the Senate floor, Biden slipped in an amendment that completely changes the law’s scope to encompass any technology used in digital rights management. The language is wide open; it will mean whatever the entertainment industry decides it means.

“It is possible, for example, that the bill allows criminal prosecutions as well as private suits against anyone who uses a black Magic Marker to disable copy protection features built into some recent music CDs,” says Stewart Baker, an attorney at Steptoe and Johnson who specializes in technology law. “At $25,000 a CD, that could be a very expensive experiment.”

The bill has very broad senate support and is expected to pass overwhelmingly. It’s on a procedural fast track that will prevent any serious debate.

In the last few weeks, Hollywood and the music industry have stepped up their demands, backing a new bill to allow hacking your computer, trying to limit your rights to record TV and radio broadcasts, and predicting even more legislation in the next few months.

Here’s an article from CNET that calmly discusses the new Biden amendment, with links to discussions of the other pending legislation. And if you want your coverage with an attitude, here’s an article from The Register that uses words like “loathsome” and “odious” to characterize the copyright martial law regime that lies ahead – words which the entertainment industry richly deserves.