The collective amnesia the entertainment industry has about its past and recent attempts to limit consumers’ rights and technological innovation is nothing short of startling. Beginning with the piano roll at the start of the 20th century, continuing with radio, TV, the VCR, MP3 players and digital video recorders (remember Replay TV?), entertainment companies have tried either to legislate or litigate innovative new technologies out of existence. Today in Congress, the recording industry is going after the digital audio devices, arguing restrictions are needed to prevent “theft.” But given that there’s no way to take music off of digital receivers, where’s the theft? It’s in the industry perception that if you can legally record music and can organize that music as you wish, then you won’t buy the CD. As if their legislative campaign was not enough, the record companies are suing XM Radio because it permits consumers to easily record the music they pay for, and Hollywood is suing Cablevision because it provides a TiVo-like service in which the programs you choose to record reside on its servers. Even though the unanimous Supreme Court victory in the Grokster case gives the entertainment industry even more tools with which to fight real copyright infringement, it continues on a legislative and litigation strategy intended to limit lawful activities.
I think it’s important to keep in mind this history when debating present-day entertainment industry efforts to ban devices they perceive as piracy-promoting. They present their proposals as common-sense efforts to control piracy, but they said the same thing about their efforts to outlaw the VCR and the MP3 player. Their efforts to ban XM receivers with record functionality isn’t an anomoly–this is their knee-jerk reaction to every new media technology that comes along.
Thanks to reader Steve R. for the pointer.