I’ve begun following a few blogs and tech sites this week and there is one thing that I have already noticed: law can hurt innovation. To be honest, I knew this before reading these blogs. Still, as a techie, it is frustrating to see events such as the following play out.
RealDVD – Permission Denied
I first noticed this story at Ars Technica: RealNetworks (the company that has been in search of a meaning since RealPlayer stopped being relevant) decided it was going to produce and sell a product called RealDVD that would allow a user to easily rip DVDs to his or her hard drive. Along with RealDVD, the company also planned on selling some hardware that would include RealDVD and would serve as a household media server. Sounds cool right? Well the MPAA took issue with the products, stating that they violate the DMCA’s anti-circumvention rules, and Judge Patel granted a temporary injunction to prevent the sale of the products.
This case is frustrating for two reasons: it features an inane copy protection argument and it stems the natural evolution of technology. Lets start with the later: as much as the Blu-Ray gods don’t want to acknowledge it, optical media is dieing technology. We live in the age of broadband access, high capacity drives, and mature multimedia devices in our living rooms, in our cars, and in our pockets. We have everything we need to begin distributing and storing movies as data on our devices instead of discs on a shelf, and thanks to services such as iTunes we have already started. And those who already store their movies on devices know how convenient it is: immediate access to all your movies, ability to sample movies and view related information, access to your movies from across your network, and easy transfer to your favorite on the go media player. When you consider these advantages, along with optical media’s short comings (easily damaged, cost of physical production) you can see that, all things being equal, movies-as-data is a superior technology. RealNetworks recognized this and saw a chance to advance technology while getting in on a budding market.
Unfortunately the MPAA stepped in with its inane argument. RealNetworks went out of their way to make RealDVD kosher. The software does not remove any encryption from the movie it rips, and the company went as far as to obtain a license from the DVD CCA (the guys responsible for DVD copy protection) for the program. This is much more than most similar programs do. So you can imagine how astonishing it is to hear the MPAA argue that RealDVD circumvents copy protection. The MPAA claims this because RealDVD takes the disc out of the movie watching process and that the disc itself is a copy protection mechanism. The problem with this argument, and its codified basis in the DMCA, is that the disc is not a mechanism for copy protection. It is a mechanism for distribution. It is nothing more than a physical means of transporting data from a source to a destination. The data that is found on a disc can be a means of copy protection if, for example, it has been encrypted in a way that only certain applications or devices can understand. However, the data is independent of the disc, and the disc can not contribute to the copy protection of the data.
Now the kicker: the MPAA’s copy protection schemes don’t work. The technically inclined have been cracking encryption for years, and pretty much any one can download pretty much any movie. The MPAA’s efforts have not had their desired effect, yet they continue to press on, all the while undermining the experience of the average user. So lets step back for a minute and look at the practical results: an organization’s fruitless attempts at copy protection have prevented a piece of useful technology from entering the market. Great job guys, society is clearly better thanks to your efforts.