L. Neil Smith's
THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 243, October 19, 2003
"Walk Through the Fire"
DMCA98: The State's New Favorite Weapon of Mass Democracy
Exclusive To TLE
One of the latest Weapons of Mass Democracy for budding tyrants today is the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 (DMCA). With it, the State and its lifeless drones can hold individual rights and free-markets hostage.
It's been entertaining (in a Jerry Springer sort of way) to watch the State and its intellectual property rights bedfellows play tiddlywinks with our individual property rights.
One recent bedtime romp involved the big bad RIAA publicly flogging Brianna LaHara, a 12-year-old, because she had the audacity to think she was free to use the tunes her parents undoubtedly paid big bucks for however she wanted. I guess 12-year-olds are just naive that way.
Rather than be dragged by her hair through the Judicial Wheel of Torture, LaHara's mother settled out of court.
And lest you think The Man's ham-fisted control over our music was all they were after... read on, the stench thickens.
The next tryst involves the Chamberlain Group, which thinks owners of its brand of garage door openers must use only their remote controllers! Skylink Technologies' universal hand-held remotes work just fine on CG's doors, and they better serve their owners' needs; but in the eyes of Chamberlain, that's just not fair competition.
Luckily for Chamberlain's garage door owners, The Man was busy crucifying Tommy Chong that day in court and neglected to give Judge Pallmeyer her marching orders; she denied Chamberlain's petition against Skylink.
But don't think the promiscuity ends there. There is a case pending right now that will definitively answer the age old question: Does the State understand the real meaning of individual rights?
The MPAA is salivating at the chance to convince the State that 321 Studios should get a swift steel-toed boot to the ass for selling encryption-busting software. They are appalled that 321 would dare provide the means for individuals to engage in "piracy." Stay tuned for more fun on this one.
And the most scandalous of them all is the near-miss case against Alex Halderman, a grad student from Princeton University who, as part of a term paper for his doctorate in Computer Science, figured out that encryption software sold by SunnComm Technology is entirely useless if one wields the mighty power of the "shift" key! That's right; they want to bust Halderman's chops for revealing the strategic use of the "shift" key.
All of the aforementioned tyrants are eagerly grabbing at every DMCA straw in sight to protect their rapidly declining market share. Instead of taking heed of free-market warnings and coming up with a better strategy, they are attempting the lazy man's escape: pay someone else to deal with the problem. Why should they innovate when they can use the State's monopoly on aggression to save them from having to produce solid products that make all sides of the buy/sell equation happy?
The DMCA is pure aggression. It grants companies permission to aggress against their consumers by telling them, and other peaceful market players, that their property can be used only in ways they dictate, even if you can find a way around their flimsy protections.
Why are they spending their dwindling profits on litigation instead of making fistfuls of cash by producing DVDs that are impossible to copy? Tunes impossible to trade? Garage door remotes that are the key to only one castle? And protection software that is impervious to the skillful wielding of the "shift" key?
Because it's much easier (and more cost-effective) to pay The Man to enforce market conditions that keep antiquated market strategies profitable by bullying around the lemmings with the threat of their iron fist.
The property I purchase is minelock, stock, and barrel. I have every right to use it, abuse it, smack it, flip it up, or rub it down. And don't start telling me about copyright law and disclaimers printed on merchandise that masquerade as contracts. If I wanted anyone else to have a say in what I did with my property, I'd have signed a real contract agreeing to such conditions.
It seems that even corporate lackeys understand this concept, when their favorite WMD is taken away from their toy chest.
Peter Jacobs, CEO of SunnComm, had a "change of heart" after his company withdrew their legal threats. SunnComm discovered DMCA didn't criminalize what is written in term papers, though you won't see them admitting it. It's amazing the common sense he conjured up after he realized he couldn't sue Halderman.
"I don't want to represent a company that would do anything to cause any kind of chilling effect to research," Jacobs said. "Clearly the kind of emotional issues that surround this whole thing made it more prudent for us to take a step back and concentrate on making the next version better."