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.

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