HD, DRM, DMCA, oh my!

Writers Block Live is calling for a complete boycott of all high definition video (HD) that uses any kind of DRM such as AACS. The core issue is the desire of major corporate content publishers to incorporate control over how and when copies are made. Digital Rights Management (DRM) is the term that has come to cover this hot topic. The hottest part of this controversy at the moment is the perception that RIAA/MPAA is trying to remove or redefine Fair Use.

Fair Use is the clause in the copyright law that allows people to make copies of copyrighted material at all. Fair Use says that you can make copies of copyrighted material under certain conditions and in accordance with certain practices. Fair Use is what makes legal the copying of a song from the CD on which it was purchased to an iPod.

However, it seems to me that this is only a continuation of a misuse of copyright laws that began a long time ago. In the early 1900s businessmen bought the rights to music written and performed by those now recognized as the greats of Jazz. I’m sure this was not limited to Jazz either. Many of the architects of modern Jazz saw very little if any of the massive amounts of money their artistic endeavors brought in.

The Constitution is very clear on the purpose of copyright.

The Constitutional Provision Respecting Copyright
The Congress shall have Power… To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries. (U.S. Constitution Article I, Section 8)

The intent of copyright is to provide incentive for inventors and authors (which would include various artists) to create by ensuring monetary return on their creations. Yet, copyright has been turned into a commodity to be bought and sold with complete disregard for it’s original intent.

Indeed, copyright in the case of musicians has been turned on its head. Artists beg music publishing companies for a chance to sign a contract the very heart of which is the conveyance of the artist’s right to control the music they create. Without a contract with a major record label it is significantly more difficult to make a living as a musician. So, in the case of music, copyright has become a tool for the stifling creativity rather than promoting it. Major record labels aren’t looking for creativity, they are looking for marketability. The very antithesis of creativity by some accounts.

It is interesting to note that in another industry the course of patent (a concept similar to copyright in its intent) has gone very different. For drug companies, their patent on new drugs is very limited. When the patent runs out, the formula becomes available as a generic. Conversely, copyright on a song can be extended, seemly forever. If I understand correctly the current law allows for 70 years after the originating artist dies.

I am all in support of artists being able to earn a living in the purveyance of their art. However, in the current model it is not the artists who are making a living on their art. It is the major record labels. The artists do not own their music in most cases. Yes, the biggest names do but, as I understand it, the majority of musicians signed with major labels have signed over the rights to the music they record.

At the end of the day it seems to me that the RIAA’s squawking about piracy and illegal copying is more about their fear that their world is crashing in. The tools are already out there for musicians to publish their music without the major labels. CDBaby makes it possible for musicians to self-publish their own CDs. Those willing to jump through the hoops can publish their music on iTunes Music Store, no CDs required. ProTools, Logic Pro and similar software make home recording far more feasible and realistic. Even GarageBand is enough for some musicians to get their start.

I suspect that DRM and the rest of it is really the death throes of a suffering dinosaur. Major corporations use to living on major incomes are watching their livelihoods get eaten away by technology. This industry was built on records and airtime. The day the tape recorder started to become ubiquitous was the harbinger of major change for this industry. They have steadfastly resisted change at every turn. Continuing to do so may well render them irrelevant as others such as CDBaby and iTunes Music Store grab the opportunity presented by their resistance.

The business model used to move music, movies and similar content from the artist to the aficionado will change or rather will continue to change. The sooner the likes of RIAA and MPAA die, the better by my lights.


Today’s run stats:

  • 4 miles in 42:20
  • Pulse one minute after finish: 140
  • Pulse five minutes after finish: 120

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