"Chained Melodies"

By Damien Cave

By Salon Staff

Published March 19, 2002 8:30PM (EST)

Read the story

I quite enjoyed your article "Chained Melodies," which brought up current issues with the DMCA and the upcoming SSSCA, but thought it might be interesting to point out that under the DMCA, your article could be deemed illegal, since it starts with how a user gets around current copyright controls on a CD. In fact, subscribers could get a few years in prison for viewing the article. On top of all this, Mr. Cianessi could be found guilty of two or three violations, since he knowingly ripped the CD, spoke about it, and confessed to doing it before. Yet another reason Congress needs to take a serious look at the DMCA.

I think we all need to stand up and say, "Yes, I rip CDs and I'm proud of it," then record it in MP3 format and e-mail it to our congressmen.

-- Mark Whitworth

Most of the best technologies for copyright protection would be impossible to bring to market.

For example, sending only an encrypted digital signal to speakers to prevent the interception of an analog signal might be a powerful deterrent to copying. However, what record company would be willing to put out their new hit CD with a label saying "Can only be played on equipment purchased after October 2002"? Trying to obsolete every single piece of AV equipment currently in existence is impossibly foolish.

Music will continue to come out on CDs that play in current CD players and movies will continue to come out in DVDs that play in current DVD players. As long as that's the case, there will always be copyright-circumvention hardware.

-- Andrew Norris

Two crucial points not explored in "Chained Melodies" or in other recent articles about digital copyright:

1) We're all content producers now.

With less than $1,000 of equipment, I can create my own digital movie, and with a community of broadband subscribers I can distribute my own entertainment to interested persons who can readily receive it.

On self-organizing and self-ranking community sites I can publish, be seen and be heard. I don't need Hollywood. My friends have in-home large screens and surround sound. We don't need theaters. We have parties. It's a hobby.

It is my impression that this is what the moguls truly fear and that this is what is truly being trampled upon by this type of legislation: the rights of individual producers to make their content freely available using common and cheap means of production and distribution.

It's what makes paid content truly irrelevant.

2) The movie makers and media providers rely more and more on software explicitly copyable, not copy protected: namely, Linux and its associated applications.

This includes studios converting to Linux servers as well as AOL Time Warner, which recently announced plans to replace Microsoft's Internet Explorer with the GPL'd Mozilla browser.

How are they going to get around the impression it creates when they deliver copyrighted works built with copylefted tools?

-- Red Matthews

Thanks for the insightful article by Damien Cave. I'm glad to see Salon is finally covering this outrageous piece of (proposed) legislation by people who want to turn our computers from the powerful interactive engines they are into glorified TV sets.

Although the legislation refers to "Interactive Digital Devices," which could include items as simple as a digital watch or a microwave oven, I'll limit my discussion to computers.

One disturbing aspect of this legislation is the regulating of private behavior. I have no problem being held responsible for actual copyright violations (even under the outrageous terms of the DMCA), but if I pay for my computer I'll use it as I damned well please. Maybe I'll copy my CDs for personal use, maybe I'll write open-source components, or maybe I'll turn it into a sculpture. As a software developer, I'm especially concerned that as fundamental an operation as copying (maybe a file, or maybe just a variable) could have legal implications. Will open(...); write(...); close(); or new FileOutputStream(..); require a Digital Rights Management check?

Another is the incredible anti-consumer hubris. Why should I have to accept a technology that increases the cost and reduces the performance of my next computer, just because Disney hasn't found a technology to protect their brain-dead content? If they won't feel safe making their movies accessible via broadband without a population composed of "trusted PCs," then DON'T DO IT. I'll rent a VHS tape, or better yet, do without.

Finally, there are potential privacy implications. How do we know that the final SSSCA-approved DRM scheme won't employ some sort of a "phone-home" procedure ? If it does, how do we know that the information will be limited to what is strictly necessary to enforce the copyright? This is what happens when the RIAA and MPAA, and not you, control your computer.

Thanks again for the excellent article.

-- Mike Gollub

It never ceases to amaze me how we have to have this argument time and time again with entertainment industry idiots who are terrified of technology. It happened with the audiocassette, it happened with the VCR, it happened with the DAT tape, it happened with CDs; it never ends. Each new advance in technology is touted as the end of creative content and the death of revenue for the industry. They constantly paint the picture of poor starving artists who will be have their livelihood stolen by this evil new development.

Of course every one of these advances ultimately had just the opposite effect. They create more avenues for distribution, generate greater exposure for a broader variety of artists, and pay big profits to all concerned.

And yet the response is always the same. The industry spends years fighting this "insidious threat" instead of getting on with the task of figuring out how to use new technologies to their benefit.

Here's the universal truth that history has made painfully obvious:

You can't stop technological advancement.

You can't stop technological advancement.

You can't stop technological advancement.

There -- I've said it three times so maybe it will sink in. You can't stop it, and any attempt to do so is a pointless waste of time. And what's worse is that during this wasted time, these companies could be making money from all of this.

Instead we have to listen to Michael Greene's 10-minute rant on prime-time television during the Grammys. In any business one of the major keys to success is to create constant change to respond to the constantly changing business environment -- the same is true for the entertainment industry. Will they be able to continue to do business as usual? No -- they will not. And neither will anyone else.

I know that they find it unfortunate that they won't be able to charge us $18 for a CD with only a couple of good songs on it -- but sorry, that's the way it is. Advances in technology, business practices and delivery methods always mean better value for customers (at least in a capitalist economy).

Look at Wal-Mart. Better selection, better prices, better for consumers. I'm sure that all of those little mom-and-pop stores that were run out of business by Wal-Mart, Target and the like would tell you that this is a bad thing -- but consumers have said otherwise. They've said it with their wallets.

Today it's MP3s and CD burners -- tomorrow it will be something new. The entertainment industry needs to stop their bitching and get on with the business of transforming themselves to thrive and prosper in today's world. It's what every other business has to do, and I'm afraid they live in the same world as the rest of us whether they like it or not.

-- Steve Coldiron

Somehow people got the idea that art is free, that they have a right to enjoy their favorite bands and TV shows without paying a dime. Making mix CDs and burning your friend the occasional CD is not terrible, and when copyright infringement occurs on this level I think most artists and executives are fine with it. It is when it becomes this massive, anonymous, continent-crossing beast that I think they get worried. And rightly so. I know people who never buy any of their music. As an artist I find this frightening. Producing art takes a great deal of time and energy. Most of us are not wealthy. Sure, entertainment corporations might fuck us in the ass, but at least they give us a reach-around; snotty art thieves (for that is what they are) not only won't reach around but get offended that you even asked and infringed upon their right to hammer you in the exit chute for free. Well, you know what, neither I nor any other artist likes to be refused a reach-around and eventually we'll stop producing our product. Art. So don't be a prick. Can it with your whiny "revolution against corporations" (trans.: theft) and pay for your fucking entertainment! If you want free entertainment, grab the lube, drop trou and type "tit" into a search engine, you fucking dilheads!

-- Avram Klein

The following quote made me laugh:

Even [Talal Shamoon, executive vice president of InterTrust] admits that we're in the midst of an "ugly transition period." Everyone is dreaming of a time "when content exists in the air and follows you around," he says. "I want to be able to walk into a hotel room and have it realize it's me and let me watch my movies from home."

It's ironic that the people who have a vested interest in seeing more restrictive content-control laws put into place, still want to have things made easier or cheaper for themselves, while denying that right to others. In the above quote, Mr. Shamoon is hoping for the day when his own paid-for content is available to him in a hotel room. Since when have hotels ever expressed a desire for their customers to obtain services or content for free? If I own a copy of a movie or pay for premium cable content at home, the hotel doesn't grant me free access to their copy of the same content. I have to pay them. Similarly, I may own a box of Junior Mints or have a wonderful bottle of Chablis, but that doesn't mean I am allowed to enjoy my Junior Mints at the local Cineplex or drink my wine at a restaurant.

Mr. Shamoon is certainly welcome to try to acquire his 30 pieces of silver, but that won't prevent others from gouging him in their turn. The "ugly transition period" he refers to is not due to unsolved technological issues, it's due to the ugly nature of the thinking being entertained by those in power.

-- Kurt Scherer

Your otherwise brilliant article left out an important possible ramification of the SSSCA: It could make it a crime for indie bands to burn their own CDs or upload MP3s to the Web without adding approved (and possibly expensive) encoding. One can easily see why the payola-hungry radio conglomerates would be eager to have that sort of legislation passed: Listen to what we tell you to, or else.

Point #2: Congress can pass all the brilliant legislation they want, but how are they going to enforce it when someone's hosting their pirated copy of "Lord of the Rings" from a server physically located on the island of Tuvalu?

-- Ken Mondschein

Congressional authority with respect to copyright, copy protection, etc., is set by the text of that Supreme Law of the Land, the Constitution of the United States, which grants the power as follows:

"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..."

Note that restriction, "limited times." Such measures as those espoused by the existing DMCA and the proposed SSSCA are legal only if they satisfy the following two conditions:

1) Protection MUST expire upon expiration of copyright; and

2) Protection MUST be forbidden for non-copyright (i.e., public domain) materials.

I do not see either of those conditions required in the existing DMCA or the proposed SSSCA. Both of these acts are unconstitutional on their faces, and those congressmen, presidents, and judges who support them are lawbreakers who are violating their oaths of office, as well.

-- Carlie J. Coats Jr., Ph.D.

The legal freedoms at risk, as a result of the ever-present arguments from the corporate entertainment moguls and their greedy conglomerates, have never before presented a more serious threat to all law-abiding and taxpaying citizens of a free democratic society.

Will these paranoid and self-serving executives ever see the light and realize that they are poisoning their own families' food supply? Not anytime soon I am sure, but only when they (duh!) realize that the current drop-off in entertainment industry revenue (the result of uncompelling disposable content, and consumer disgust with predatory pricing practices), will in retrospect appear like the good ol' days as consumers shun their products altogether.

Consumers are not as stupid as these arrogant spoilers believe -- not by a long shot. We will band together to fight back with our most effective weapon -- our wallets against their bottom lines.

And then after it is far too late and more than a few dollar short, we will again be subjected to the pitiful scenario of overcompensated executives pleading for the taxpayers to bail their ruined industries out at no expense to themselves.

Goodbye to them all and good riddance! Perhaps they are actually doing the public a favor.

Only time will tell.

-- Thomas Acuna

I work from home and I like to listen to my CDs on my PC while I work. My CDs are all legitimate -- I'm not that techno-savvy and I don't have an MP3 player, or even a CD player in my car. I'm probably the consumer that the media companies most have to worry about. Why? Because I've brought a couple of CDs that won't play in my PC. I don't know why. Probably copyright protection. I don't complain. I don't take them back. I just vow that I will never buy any CDs by that artist ever again. It's all very well to put in all this copyright protection but I guarantee there's a lot of people like me who just go, "Oh well, I won't buy it again."

It's all very nice to own the copyright on a piece of music but it's totally pointless if no one's prepared to pay for it. The music industry, in a bid to stop illegal copying, may find their legitimate market simply decides stop buying. If that happens I imagine pirating will seem a minor problem in comparison.

-- Carol Harris

I live in Old Montreal, Quebec, where almost all households and offices depend on the legal sale of copyrighted materials, be they software, music or film/television, for a livelihood. Children here have clothes on their backs because someone was willing to pay for fair use of copyrighted material in some form or another.

Giving power "back to the people" by allowing them to steal from those who worked hard to create art and science, using Napster, Gnutella, or any other service, is in fact taking power away from people -- who really believes that anarchy is empowering? Hey, why not take it one step further and allow anyone to steal food off supermarket shelves? Wouldn't that empower them? Isn't A&P a huge corporation who now oppresses people by asking for so much money from them? Isn't asking people to shell out cash at the checkout counter something that they don't like, would prefer to not do, and, using your arguments, a reason for which all food should be free?

Hollywood is not just fat cats hanging around poolside champagne bars. Hollywood is also people like me who work very long hours to make a living, and some very simple folks who do things like serve food on the set and drive production vehicles. If consumers think that $11 is too much to pay to see the projects we work on, then they can chose not to. Next time, we'll work harder. However, we OWN these projects. If we wanted to, we could charge $50. If consumers didn't like it, we could then revise our plan. Sound "wrong" or "offensive"? Well, however it sounds, this is simply the way a capitalist democracy works. What you and the many academics you quote are suggesting sounds much like communism, where individual ownership is seen as a sin. Who would pay the salaries of musicians, writers, etc., if their work were available for free? No one. All these art forms would regress to a pre-medieval scenario, where you could only practice them as an amateur, or maybe hope a benefactor would throw you a few pennies once in a while. In this scenario, only non-information-related, blue-collar jobs could be considered viable.

Is this what you and the academics you quote want?

I also think you overstate the problem of being unable to make fair-use backups. Sure, it happens that a CD gets scratched, or that a program needs to be installed twice on the same computer, or whatever. Those problems can easily be solved by better protection technology, like dongles, and by better customer service. I'm sure software makers would be more than glad to offer better customer service in return for regaining the estimated 60 percent of revenues they lose to piracy.

Really, this is not about Hollywood fat cats protecting their asses, this is about entire industries protecting the means of survival of millions of people, most of them neither fat nor particularly catlike.

-- Rob Ruffo

Would you please be so kind as to stop referring to fair-use copying as "intellectual property violation"? Not only is there no such thing as "intellectual property," but making copies of a CD you've bought is not a violation of any law. The only thing owned is a copyright, which restricts commercial copying.

It is unfortunate that Congress and the courts have ignored the clear intention of the founders where copyrights, patents and trademarks are concerned. They are trying to invent something they call "intellectual property," for a whole host of reasons, none of them good for our democracy or the freedoms we enjoy.

Ask yourself this, is it legal or ethical for me to take your car, spray-paint it and crash it? Certainly not. How about if I sing your song to my friends in a Elmer Fudd voice, out of key and with weird or naughty words? There's nothing illegal or unethical about this (although it may be in poor taste).

This shows how silly the notion of "intellectual property" is. If you tell me your idea, I have a copy in my head, and I can do anything with it I like. I can wreck it, twist it, fold, spindle and mutilate it. I can spray-paint it and crash it. I can tell one friend, or a thousand.

Except for just one thing: If your idea is patented, I can't use it to make something to sell for profit.

That is all the founders intended patents and copyrights to be used for. Not to keep secrets, but to give creators the financial security to share their ideas with the rest of us. Not to set up a cash pipeline for the record and movie industries, but to keep those industries from stealing from creators.

If your only concerns about music, science and art have to do with commerce, then you might be forgiven for thinking that "intellectual property" exists. But if all that matters to you is commerce, then you are a shallow person indeed and deserve to be a "consumer" rather then a citizen.

-- G.R. Svenddal

Perhaps the most chilling aspect of the SSSCA is that it would effectively make it impossible to produce your own digital content -- for if no machine is allowed to view content without the proper encrypted watermark, what incentive do the major studios have to share those watermarks with the public?

A video file transferred from a camcorder could as easily contain a movie recorded off a cinema screen as it could contain legitimate original content. Even a simple text file could as easily contain the "pirated" text of a book that has been run through a scanner as it could contain legitimate original content.

And the SSSCA would make it illegal to make a computer that could play files from that camcorder or read that text file. So if you created a video or text file and sent it to your friends, they could not read it. And letting you make your own watermarks would defeat the entire purpose of the SSSCA as Hollywood is proposing it, because then you could watermark pirated content.

Furthermore, the SSSCA would effectively outlaw the open-source movement -- for if the source of an operating system is open, it can be modified into a circumvention device. No more Linux, no more FreeBSD ... because these are grass-roots-developed operating systems and anyone can modify them (or simply compile old versions that don't have the protections in place), they cannot be permitted.

This overly broad law will adversely affect many of the freedoms we take for granted. It must not be allowed to pass.

-- Chris Meadows

I'd like to thank Salon for all of the interesting coverage on copy protection and file sharing. I hope it continues.

One angle I've been particularly interested in is something that has coincided with the emergence of the MP3 format and huge file-sharing services like Napster: how cheap it's gotten for amateur musicians to produce nearly professional-quality music.

I look at programs like Fruity Loops ($49-$99) and Sonic Foundry's Acid ($349) as cheap and fairly easy-to-learn computer programs. Yet, they are also deep enough to open the door for some really interesting new ideas about music by people who aren't under any self-imposed pressure to be the next Britney Spears, but who just love music.

Hell, the way I see it, let the big five music companies stop people from stealing music by the lame employee/artists on their rosters. I believe that even if it becomes impossible to copy or download Metallica or Eminem albums, people will still have that hunger for opening up their favorite file-sharing program and having free music instantly. If they are forced by the record companies to pursue alternative music to do that, maybe that would be good for music in general.

I don't think that the record companies are going to crumble because of consumer rage at their crappy copy-protection schemes, but I do think that it's possible that people who spend a lot of time online are going to be faced with the prospect of (a) buying restrictive copy-protected media that they can't listen to on half of the listening devices in their house, or (b) just downloading music by unfamiliar artists from sites like mp3.com, file-sharing services, or sites that artists put up on their own as part of a bigger collective (as they do in the mod music scene).

A critic would be right to point out that affordable software with a small learning curve would open the floodgates for tons of hacks, sensationalists (like the "porn music" on mp3.com), and even thieves that would plagiarize other Internet artists for attention. My response to that is: may the best man or woman win. I'm up to the challenge. As a musician, I don't have a problem giving my music away for free for the rest of my life. As a music fan, I welcome the opportunity to listen to music in a different way.

-- Josh Taillon

For anyone outside the U.S., the possibility of further digital media rights protection legislation is horrifying.

Here in Australia, we are seriously limited in what DVDs we can access: I would love to watch "Labyrinth" on my Mac -- I would pay to be able to do it... But I cannot -- the DVD is not encoded for region 4, so my DVD player won't play it if I do buy it.

Now the U.S. Congress is considering extending these sorts of restrictions to all digital media, all hardware and software. I can see a time coming when I cannot buy a copy of a Pat Metheny CD to play on my Walkman, because the Walkman is a few years old and doesn't have the right enabling chip. Oh, hey, I just figured out how to get a copy -- I'll get a mate to pick up a pirated copy without read protection while he's in Bali.

The only people who will benefit from the legislation are people with malicious intent, and the media publishers. The hardware manufacturers will have added costs that they'll pass along to the consumers. Software manufacturers will spend more on lawyers than programmers (if they don't already!). And U.S. consumers will face the problem we already have here -- legitimately purchased media won't play on legitimately purchased and unaltered hardware.

-- Robert Hook

I still think the solution to much of the music recording industry's problems is to lower the prices of CDs and DVDs. Album tape cassettes retail for around $10. It certainly is easier and faster and cheaper to make a CD than a tape. Yet the CD in many cases costs nearly twice as much as a cassette. Another factor hardly taken into consideration by the industry is that the irritation involved in their various schemes will be so high that consumers will simply stop buying their stuff. They will turn to totally different sources for their music entertainment.

-- Ronald W. Dyke

Salon Staff

MORE FROM Salon Staff

Related Topics ------------------------------------------