Another IP rant

Found this Stallman short story which occurs in a dystopian future in an Ars comment thread-

For Dan Halbert, the road to Tycho began in college—when Lissa Lenz asked to borrow his computer. Hers had broken down, and unless she could borrow another, she would fail her midterm project. There was no one she dared ask, except Dan.

This put Dan in a dilemma. He had to help her—but if he lent her his computer, she might read his books. Aside from the fact that you could go to prison for many years for letting someone else read your books, the very idea shocked him at first. Like everyone, he had been taught since elementary school that sharing books was nasty and wrong—something that only pirates would do.

And there wasn’t much chance that the SPA—the Software Protection Authority—would fail to catch him. In his software class, Dan had learned that each book had a copyright monitor that reported when and where it was read, and by whom, to Central Licensing. (They used this information to catch reading pirates, but also to sell personal interest profiles to retailers.) The next time his computer was networked, Central Licensing would find out. He, as computer owner, would receive the harshest punishment—for not taking pains to prevent the crime….

Ars reported last month that the RIAA was lobbying for the mandatory inclusion of FM radios in portable electronics. Naturally, the electronics lobby isn’t happy about it-

The Consumer Electronics Association, whose members build the devices that would be affected by such a directive, is incandescent with rage. “The backroom scheme of the [National Association of Broadcasters] and RIAA to have Congress mandate broadcast radios in portable devices, including mobile phones, is the height of absurdity,” thundered CEA president Gary Shapiro. Such a move is “not in our national interest.”

“Rather than adapt to the digital marketplace, NAB and RIAA act like buggy-whip industries that refuse to innovate and seek to impose penalties on those that do.”

But the music and radio industries say it’s a consumer-focused proposition, one that would provide “more music choices.”

It’s very heartening to note that these lobbies “care” about the consumer and the nation so much. De facto perpetual copyrights and submarine patents that allow people to blackmail companies with a successful business model wouldn’t exist without such caring. Of course, one hopes they don’t intend to start suing people listening to their radios, like the British music lobby did a few years ago-

The mechanics working out in the garage have radios playing while they work, and there’s plenty of noise in the garage, so they’re likely to turn those radios up. Customers in the enclosed area next to the garage are certainly likely to hear that music… but is it really a public performance? The Performing Rights Society in the UK certainly thinks so, which is why they’re suing. The repair firm, Kwik-Fit, has a pretty weak response, saying that it’s banned personal radios for ten years. Instead, it should be fighting back on the idea that this is a public performance in any way. Otherwise, you get into all sorts of trouble. If you have the windows open in your home and are listening to your legally owned music (or your TV!) and your neighbor can hear it, is that a public performance?

Is that a public performance? Damn yeah! That’s what former Sony BMG lawyer Pariser might say, given that she said this in court, in ’07-

Pariser has a very broad definition of “stealing.” When questioned by Richard Gabriel, lead counsel for the record labels, Pariser suggested that what millions of music fans do is actually theft. The dirty deed? Ripping your own CDs or downloading songs you already own.

Gabriel asked if it was wrong for consumers to make copies of music which they have purchased, even just one copy. Pariser replied, “When an individual makes a copy of a song for himself, I suppose we can say he stole a song.” Making “a copy” of a purchased song is just “a nice way of saying ‘steals just one copy’,” she said.

In this atmosphere, the world of Stallman’s story seems to be the saner one while ours appears surreal.

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