Saturday, June 10, 2006

The Right to Innovate

There is a war of aggression going on, in the halls of the US Congress. The aggressor: a handful of entertainment companies, Hollywood, the music industry, record labels and the like. They are attempting to control the very right to innovate. With the help of a few friendly Senators, the entertainment industry has succeeded in banning innovation without their approval in large areas of technology, and have shut down innovators and new businesses which threatened their business models.

The biggest weapon to date the entertainment industry have had is the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, or DMCA.

The IEEE Spectrum is running a story on how the DMCA has been used to cripple innovation, hurt consumers, destroy businesses, and hold technology companies hostage -- and how the entertainment industry plans to do even more to forbid unauthorised innovation and invention.

Death by DMCA

Before the passage of the DMCA, entertainment and technology had, for the most part, peacefully coexisted. Laws addressing the use and misuse of copyrighted content targeted "bad actors" rather than complete classes of technology. For example, when songwriters in the 1920s sued radio stations for broadcasting live music performances without paying the songwriters, the lawyers did nothing to the companies that designed and built the broadcast transmitter towers. And in the early 1980s, when videocassette recorders (VCRs) made it possible for consumers to record television broadcasts, the U.S. Supreme Court, in its landmark Betamax case, ruled that the manufacturers of home video-recording devices were not liable for copyright infringement.

Things have changed. Now, under the DMCA, those who write programs are deemed to be responsible for crimes -- real, imaginary or hypothetical -- which are committed by others using those software tools.

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