As an audio/vidio geek and Hollywood insider, I would like to clear up some misconceptions, and share my take on this bill.
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- The DMCA (Digital Millenium Copyright Act) already makes it a serious crime to attempt to decrypt encrypted digital media, whether by software or hardware.
- All unencrypted digital media (such as audio CDs and DATs) are being phased out by media giants, and will be replaced by encrypted formats, such as Blu-Ray, Super Audio CD, HD DVD, and file formats by Microsoft, Apple, etc.
- Due to Step 1 and Step 2, it will soon be illegal to make a direct digital copy of any mainstream media.
- Therefore, the only legal way to make copies of digital media, both now, and especially in the future, is to transfer the media through an analog step, and back into digital.
The legislation in question makes this illegal. Not only does it make it illegal, but it turns your own hardware into the enforcement agency. Imagine having a hammer that could decide on its own, whether or not let you swing at a nail, depending on whether or not you had applied for a building permit. Imagine a can opener that would refuse to open a can of beef stew if your cholesterol was above nominal levels. That's exactly what we're talking about with this legislation.
And be assured that, while these protection techniques are voluntary for the copyright holder, they will become the norm. All mainstream media will be under lock and key.
So why should you care, unless you're a pirate?
Here's why every American who cares about the public exchange of art and ideas should care about this:
All ideas, all art, all intellectual property belongs by default to the public. As a member of the public, you have the assumed right to make unlimited copies of all art and ideas, with narrow, temporary exceptions. Copyright is one of those, and even so, it has its own limitations and exceptions known as Fair Use.
But if this legislation passes, the public domain and fair use will become anachronisms, because no unencrypted copy will exist in the public, there are no copyright sunset provisions in the bill, and there would be no reason for the copyright holder to issue unencrypted copies after the copyright expires.
And once the Analog Hole is plugged, digital rights management can be broadly applied across all formats.
Some examples of how this could affect you:
- You own a 2012 HD DVD collection of all six Star Wars films. In the year 2097, these films finally fall into the public domain, and at long last, it is legal for you to make a backup copy of your HD DVDs, if by some miracle they haven't already disintegrated. Unfortunately, it is still illegal, under the DMCA, to crack the encryption on your HD DVDs. So you try to use the Analog Hole to make a copy, running it out the analog cables on your ancient HD DVD player, and recording the signal on your PC. Unfortunately, your PC has been made after the Analog Hole legislation passed, and will not let you make a copy.
- It's November, 2008. You are finishing a vodcast (video podcast) for your political blog, featuring CNN video clips from the final days on the campaign trail. But your digital Tivo will not let you copy the clips to your laptop digitally, and your laptop (a brand new Sony) will not accept an analog input of the video, because CNN has protected it.
- It's February 2007, and it's your daughter's bat-mitzvah. You take her and her friends out for karaoke, and take along your video camera. Unfortunately, when you get home and try to play the tape, it is blank, because the karaoke video screen told your camcorder not to record, and your camcorder obeyed.
- August, 2009. You are a freelance composer, and you stretch your budget to hire a string quartet to play your latest composition in your studio. But when you walk up to the studio, the FBI is walking out with your equipment, and they arrest you, and the musicians. Eventually, you find out that your new intern tried to copy a Blu-Ray disc the night before, and your new digital mixer called the police, who contacted the FBI.
In fact, your very eyes and ears could be illegal. After all, they record analog video and audio, and translate them into digital, without passing along the copy restrictions.