Ed Felten is a professor of computer science and public affairs at Princeton University. Prof. Felten has done a lot analysis of copy protection schemes (and I use the word schemes in the negative sense, as in schemes to sell snake oil). Over the years he has been sued several times by companies trying to prevent him publishing the results of his studies. Prof. Felten is not an advocate of piracy or a thief. He is not trying to sell anything to anyone. All he is trying to do is inform the public about technology that affects them. Unfortunately this sort of public discussion, about “content protection technologies” is explicitly prohibited by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act which I personally think is unconstitutional, and is definitely one of the worst pieces of legislation ever passed by the United States Congress. Because of the ridiculous provisions in this law, companies have tried to stymie public discussion of flaws in their products.
As we move to a point in time when the current analog tv signals are permanently turned off (currently scheduled for the end of 2008) people who still have current non-digital tv sets will need new digital to analog converter boxes. This point where the digital signal is converter so that it can be viewed is known as the analog hole. This conversion point can be used to copy this digital content. The big media companies desperately want to keep people from copying this content and bypassing their revenue stream. As part of this effort they have enlisted two of their congressional lackeys, James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin and John Conyers of Michigan to sponsor their Digital Transition Content Security Act. It is interesting that congressmen from WI and MI get such a disproportionate amount of their campaign financing from big entertainment companies, you would think that they would get most of their money from cheese and car companies. The MPAA and RIAA and their friends are the top contributor to Sensenbrenner and no 2 contributor to Conyers.
Prof. Felten has a very interesting post here about a big hole in the anti-analog hole legislation. Basically they want to make an exemption to the protection schemes for “Professional Equipment”. They need this so that the creators of the content can actually copy and create the content. A potential side-effect of this exemption and the way it is worded is that it would close off access to content creation technologies to amateur creators. Besides causing trouble for people who just want to edit their home videos in iMovie, it also potentially closes off access for citizen media to compete with the “mainstream media”(MSM). Given the sorry state of MSM today and the desperate need we have for alternative sources of news, this is a very major problem. Without blogs and podcasts and videocasts, we would be left with the likes of Fox News, and Judith Miller and Bob Woodward. The sources of information would be controlled by a few huge companies and their lackeys in government.
The most essential element to a truly functional democracy, is an informed populace. Without accurate information, people can’t make wise decisions. Forget about piracy. That is just a bogus argument about money and who gets to collect it. Currently that is the distributors of the content, not the creators. The technology we have today is finally allowing the content creators to start profiting from their work, rather than some middleman.
The reason why DRM must be eliminated is because it a grave threat to democracy. Information must be free to flow! People need access to information of all kinds in order for democracy to thrive. We must not let swine like Conyers and Sensenbrenner contribute to the smothering of democracy. Contact these fools and give them a piece of your mind!