I dont know about you, but my idea of a good evening is making a bowl of popcorn and curling up on the couch to watch a good DVD movie—as it downloads for anywhere between 2 and 12 hours, depending on what format my computer supports and the speed of my Internet connection.
As absurd as that situation sounds, thats what Universal Studios, Paramount Pictures, MGM, TriStar Pictures, Columbia Pictures, Time Warner, Disney and Twentieth Century Fox are worried about. I can see why executives at the studios are scared. They believe that the Napsterization of the movie industry will kill it, just like it did to the music business.
But wait. That didnt happen, did it? The courts intervened and (justifiably) stopped the sites that enabled the sharing. The courts have recently ruled in favor of the movie business, too. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit banned the posting or linking to a tool called DeCSS, which can decrypt a DVD and enable an MPEG file to be transferred to a computer and treated like any digital media file.
The case is likely to be further appealed, but, nevertheless, it represents a major win for the movie studios and a defeat for First Amendment rights.
No, its not OK to wantonly distribute copyrighted material. Building a profitable business around such a practice is another matter altogether. But it should be OK to delve into technology and encryption, play with it, find its strengths and weaknesses, create new ways of manipulating code, and tell the world (or at least fellow programmers) about it. Its the dissemination of protected content that should be covered by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (which was the basis for the ban), not the science and practice of discovering and sharing information about digital technology itself, no matter who uses it.
Once again, the courts prove that by focusing on current hysteria, they really are decades behind the actual practical applications of technology and its fair use. They need to consider ways to protect material, such as by amending copyright laws. Prior restraint of technological innovations is not the answer.
What is your answer? Write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.