The New York Times is running an interesting Op-Ed piece on the subject of exactly what we as consumers are currently being subjected to by Big Media, and Big Electronics. As technology has advanced in recent years the consumers rights have been eroded. If you wind the clock back to the 80’s records either singles or albums were the standard platform for music distribution. And no one cared a hoot if your home stereo had a cassette deck and you copied the album for use on your Sony Walkman.

CD’s initially were pretty much more of the same, ripping for personal use was widespread and the music industry blustered a little, but after the ‘huffing and puffing’ just sat in the corner and sulked quietly. Pretty much the same thing happened in the video world, the arrival of the cheap VCR gave consumers the ability to record their favorite TV program and watch it when they wanted to, rather than when the TV station dictated it should be watched. Court challenges were launched, and quickly dismissed by the judicial system. ‘Fair Use’ became the catch phrase.

The most significant media medium arrived with a bang in the late 1990’s, the internet through Broadband suddenly changed the whole landscape. Music and video was now a relatively trivial item to move around, better yet the copies made did not suffer quality wise, as they did with the cassette, the 1000th copy is as good as the first one.

Both the music and video world has been on a crusade to protect their property for several years now. And to date have really only scored ‘hollow victories’. The Music industry uses its pet Pit Bull the RIAA to intimidate and threaten law suits, while the Movie and Video have the MPAA. To date the RIAA has threatened well over 20,000 people, and for the most part, the victims have coughed up an average of $3000 each to make the problem go away. The question in mid though, is how much of thet $3000 makes it back to the musicians whose work has been pirated, and how much goes to support the car payments on that new BMW for the Lawyers and RIAA executives? The RIAA themselves are very tight lipped about how their ‘spoils of war’ is distributed.

What is even more disturbing is how Big Media is manipulating the Electronics sector, increasingly we are seeing the introduction of ‘closed’ systems. Essentially this means that you ‘buy’ (actually rent) either some music or video and the company dictates what you can and can not do with the item. This is akin to going to an art gallery and buying a painting, lets say that you get the painting home, and the ‘Apple iPod’ frame it came in did not match your room decorations. You decide to use a ‘Windows Media’ frame instead, this would be OK right? Well ‘NO’ is the short answer. According to the RIAA you have just committed an act of piracy. The Electronics industry alas is falling into the same trap, in order to produce Consumer Electronics they must rely on the ever changing specifications of the material that the unit is to play. Closed architecture is the name of the game!

Even though the unit may have the physical ability to connect to another unit, unneeded ‘smarts’  within the box will prevent the transfer of information. Taken to its ultimate place you could have the situation where if you have for an example an Apple music player, only Apple speakers or headphones will work on it. The headphone jack is standard, but of the headphones don’t ‘credential’ with the unit they will not function. Another side effect could be the recharging unit, if it is not the right brand, you can not use it, and this idea is already being seriously considered.

The loser in this game is undoubtedly the consumer. Yet we have no voice.

Simon Barrett

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