Tuesday, January 14, 2003

I'm not quite sure whether the news that the recording industry and technology companies have agreed to avoid legislation imposing anti-piracy technology is a good thing or a bad thing for users. While it's reassuring to find out that technology isn't going to be hampered by onerous (and ultimately futile) attempts to control copying of digital media, I somehow doubt that the RIAA is going to shrug and say "oh well". The upcoming lawsuit against the people who operate the Kazaa network shows that the route they take may be legal one, rather than a techological one, and in some respects it might be worse: the chilling effects of the possibility of lawsuits can and probably will have an even worse effect on software (and hardware) creators, as it's quite likely that they'll overreact and self-censor out of the fear of legal action. Technological controls can be worked around, after all, but there's no "workaround" for software and hardware that is never developed due to abject fear.

There's also the problem of the MPAA, which is quite willing to lobby for imposed technological controls. There's a distinct possibility that both chills on innovation (thanks to the RIAA) and technological hampering of user's rights (thanks to the MPAA) will work together to ensure that people might as well be renting or borrowing the DVDs, music, and software that they supposedly own. This won't stop the hard-core pirates, of course, but it could be a huge problem fro the rest of us.

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