Yesterday on Barling & Barrett we took on the subject of Intellectual Property rights. Also joining us was Andrew Ian Dodge. Andrew is a musician, author, columnist and is running for the Maine senate seat (so yes he is a little political). It was an interesting discussion and if you missed the live broadcast you can listen to the recording here.

I wrapped up the broadcast and started to think about IP rights and how they directly affect me. There is a high probability that the mention of IP rights to a significant percentage of people will elicit a neutral look, and a comment along the lines of “Who Cares”.

This standpoint is easy to understand, they have no vested interest because they have no ‘content’ to protect. They perceive the problem as one that effects only people like, authors, musicians, TV and Film Makers.

This view is very incorrect, IP rights effect the consumer as well as the creator.

As Piracy has flourished in the digital age, so have methods to curb it. Those methods have become increasingly more complex. The very first occasion I encountered an attempt at anti piracy was in the 1980’s, the Lotus company had created a spreadsheet program known as 123. Lotus had the lions share of the lucrative business. In an attempt to prevent illegal use of the software (one copy, one PC), they created an install process that right at the end asked the user to insert disk 1 again. The install program would them make a minor modification to the disk rendering it as ‘installed’ and thus preventing future piracy. The fix was to place a write protect tab on the disk thereby disabling the change! Even though this was in the pre-internet days it did not take long before this was the Modus Operandi of virtually everyone that purchased a copy!

How many illegal copies of Lotus 123 were installed is unknown, but as the install media was 5 ¼ inch floppy disks rather than a quick internet download it likely had more nuisance value to Lotus than hurting the pocket book. It could even be argued that the piracy helped the bottom line. As more people used it at home and understood its power, more workers asked that it be installed on computers within the work environment.

The Lotus 123 legacy is an important one. It set the stage for what was to come and how the consumer would suffer. IP protection of content does come with a price. It is the consumer that pays the price, products cost more because creators have to go to added expense to include it. The consumer also pays in other ways. How and where the content may be used is a big one.

The RIAA for example argue long and hard that under the 1998 DCMA a person who ‘rips’ a legally owned CD to an iPod or other device (for personal use) is technically breaking the law.
Yes that was 5 years ago, but the stance has not softened.

Making matters worse are the hardware manufactures that are falling in ‘lock step’ with the wishes of the content industry. Glowing examples of this can be found in the DVD world (Music, Video, Games). DVD’s have something known as a Region Code. This limits the geographical area in which a disc will play. So if you buy one in Japan, there is a good chance that it will not play on a US purchased device.

This is an artificial and unwarranted implementation of technology. Extra ‘stuff’ has to be included in both the Hardware and Disc to make it work. Extra means more money that the consumer must pay. Sure it may not be a large amount, just a few cents per DVD unit, it is a few cents spent that bring no value.

The CD world has also had its issues. In 2005 Sony hit the headlines with a simply marvelous scandal.

It is well worth exploring the links in that article.

Once again, it is the consumer that pays!

How about Apple and the iPhone? Lets make a device that is locked, lets make it really expensive and lets make sure that the customer takes it in the ass. With AT&T on board, they did just that. Did the consumer buy a product, or were they buying a license to use the product? Why was it locked down to a single provider?

Even more disturbing was the news that if you ‘fiddled with it’ you would ‘brick it’, once ‘bricked’ it would never work again. Was this a built in self destruct mechanism? Somehow the engineers had found a way to destroy some part of the hardware?

I ask the question, where has our freedom to tinker with stuff gone?

Maybe the most disturbing abuse of the consumer is just about to hit. The arrival of Windows 8, will also welcome in the world of Secure Boot. The name sounds good, hell who doesn’t want to be safe and secure?

Well Microsoft and Intel have just the critter. A computer that can ONLY run Windows. This is akin to Ford making a vehicle that will only run on Shell Gasoline. Secure boot is an entirely unwarranted level of ‘protection’. About the only thing it protects is the WinTel relationship.

The DMCA legislation sounded wonderful on paper. Protecting IP rights is important, but the act is so nebulous and it has been twisted and manipulated in ways that I am sure the law makers did not intend.

Make no mistake, IP rights should concern everyone.

Simon Barrett

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