The DMCA and Disrespect for the Law

by on June 14, 2006 · 4 comments

I was catching up on some reading last night and I thumbed through the April issue of Macworld. I came across not just one, but two articles plugging Handbrake, a video-conversion utility that allows consumers to transfer a variety of video content–including DVDs–to their iPods for viewing on the road.

The first article makes a passing reference to this article which claims that using Handbrake is fair use, even if creating it was clearly illegal. (I think this is wrong–the DMCA’s anti-circumvention provisions don’t include a fair use exemption) In either event, the articles’ authors certainly don’t seem especially concerned about the prospect of urging their customers to break the law.

Something’s clearly screwed up here. The rule of law works because of widespread public acceptance. When the law is widely despised and ignored–as it was during prohibition, for example–it inevitably fails to accomplish its stated purpose and undermines respect for the rule of law more generally.

Now, it seems to me that one could reasonably go either way here: one could be outraged at MacWorld for blithely encouraging lawlessness. Or one can be outraged that the DMCA makes innocuous activities like watching DVDs on an iPod illegal. Obviously, my sympathies are with the latter viewpoint. But I worry the most about people who are comfortable with the status quo, where the law is routinely flouted and nobody cares. If the law is stupid, it should be changed.

  • Steve R.

    I believe we need to look into what it means to be “comfortable with the status quo”. Rather than being comfortable with the status quo, many people may simply be oblivous to the legal nightmare that the DCMA has created. My belief, at the moment, is that the DCMA is more an esoteric abstraction than the reality of a brick hitting your head. When the DCMA begins to really hurt consumers we may see some demands for meaningful reform.

    To explain further, most people (I would guess) receive “news” through the printed press and TV. Most of what I read and/or see in the media promotes the DCMA. This would be expected since the media makes its Livelihood by selling content. By extrapolation this would leave many people sympathetic to the goals of the DCMA.

    Fortunately, there are some journalists in the mass media market who have been able to report on the true nightmare that the DCMA presents. To a large degree, I was a member of the fat dumb oblivious crowd (esoteric abstraction), until I read the PCWorld article in October 2005 on how the content industry was planning to obsolete the ability of current monitors and TVs to play HD content(brick to head). The article went on to point out that many of these people were going to be fiancially screwed because the owners of current HDTV’s would find their equipment investement worthless.

    The Sony rootkit debacle further illustrated the selective reporting of news. PCWorld and the Washington Post carried articles which demonstrated insight into the issues raised by deploying invasive DRM technology. The NY Times, Los Angeles Times, and PCMagazine, to me anyway, avoided examining the adverse implications of DRM technologies and only regurgitated the industry mantra of the necessity of DRM technology to protect content providers from “pirates”.

    Since many of “requirements” of the DCMA have not yet hit the consumer, there won’t be a major call-to-arms. We may see a call-to-arms if the consumers begin to realize that DRM technolgies are anticonsumer in nature.

  • http://www2.blogger.com/profile/14380731108416527657 Steve R.

    I believe we need to look into what it means to be “comfortable with the status quo”. Rather than being comfortable with the status quo, many people may simply be oblivous to the legal nightmare that the DCMA has created. My belief, at the moment, is that the DCMA is more an esoteric abstraction than the reality of a brick hitting your head. When the DCMA begins to really hurt consumers we may see some demands for meaningful reform.

    To explain further, most people (I would guess) receive “news” through the printed press and TV. Most of what I read and/or see in the media promotes the DCMA. This would be expected since the media makes its Livelihood by selling content. By extrapolation this would leave many people sympathetic to the goals of the DCMA.

    Fortunately, there are some journalists in the mass media market who have been able to report on the true nightmare that the DCMA presents. To a large degree, I was a member of the fat dumb oblivious crowd (esoteric abstraction), until I read the PCWorld article in October 2005 on how the content industry was planning to obsolete the ability of current monitors and TVs to play HD content(brick to head). The article went on to point out that many of these people were going to be fiancially screwed because the owners of current HDTV’s would find their equipment investement worthless.

    The Sony rootkit debacle further illustrated the selective reporting of news. PCWorld and the Washington Post carried articles which demonstrated insight into the issues raised by deploying invasive DRM technology. The NY Times, Los Angeles Times, and PCMagazine, to me anyway, avoided examining the adverse implications of DRM technologies and only regurgitated the industry mantra of the necessity of DRM technology to protect content providers from “pirates”.

    Since many of “requirements” of the DCMA have not yet hit the consumer, there won’t be a major call-to-arms. We may see a call-to-arms if the consumers begin to realize that DRM technolgies are anticonsumer in nature.

  • eric

    Wired magazine’s “Scofflaw” column had a similar article a few months ago about changing DVDcontent to mp4 format.

    I don’t think prohibition undermined respect for the law generally. For example, I don’t believe that people had less respect for laws against murder or armed robbery or child molestation just because they thought prohibiting alcohol was a dumb law that they refused to obey.

    Putting innocent people on death row, circus trials like OJ Simpson, judges ruling the Pledge of Allegiance unconstitutional — that is what really undermines respect for the law. Also presidents who start making up new surveillance laws apart from Congress. Congressmen who keep upwards of 100K in “cold” cash in their freezers. Or 12 million people living illegally in our country, freely given benefits to which they are not entitled. I would say these things are major threats to respect for the law. The popularity of P2P or programs to archive your own video content in a different format? Not so much.

    Or are some people still shocked, SHOCKED, to find the majority of motorists driving 73 MPH when the speed limit on the freeway is clearly posted at 65? Americans seem to be a practical sort. If a law is viewed as stupid, they try to ignore it or work around it.

  • eric

    Wired magazine’s “Scofflaw” column had a similar article a few months ago about changing DVDcontent to mp4 format.

    I don’t think prohibition undermined respect for the law generally. For example, I don’t believe that people had less respect for laws against murder or armed robbery or child molestation just because they thought prohibiting alcohol was a dumb law that they refused to obey.

    Putting innocent people on death row, circus trials like OJ Simpson, judges ruling the Pledge of Allegiance unconstitutional — that is what really undermines respect for the law. Also presidents who start making up new surveillance laws apart from Congress. Congressmen who keep upwards of 100K in “cold” cash in their freezers. Or 12 million people living illegally in our country, freely given benefits to which they are not entitled. I would say these things are major threats to respect for the law. The popularity of P2P or programs to archive your own video content in a different format? Not so much.

    Or are some people still shocked, SHOCKED, to find the majority of motorists driving 73 MPH when the speed limit on the freeway is clearly posted at 65? Americans seem to be a practical sort. If a law is viewed as stupid, they try to ignore it or work around it.

Previous post:

Next post: