“There are two kinds of music — the Blues and Zippity Do Da.” – Townes Van Zandt
Month: July 2003
The DMCA and You
And now, a few disparaging words about the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) and especially the bills, passed by some states and under consideration in many more, to extend it — the so-called “DMCA 2” laws.
Yes, I’m incorporating a political perspective into this column, as I did a couple of weeks ago in the context of Oracle’s attempted acquisition of PeopleSoft. In response to those who encourage me to “leave politics out of it” … I didn’t put politics into IT in the first place. It’s there, and hard to ignore in situations like this.
The DMCA and DMCA 2 aren’t, at their core, liberal/conservative or Democrat vs Republican issues. They’re part of something more serious and pernicious: The increased influence of large corporations on the conduct of government, and correspondingly decreased influence of private citizens and small corporations.
Plenty of others have brought up DMCA 2, and I have nothing original to add to the discussion. If you haven’t paid attention, the claimed purpose of these laws is to make it even more difficult to pirate works of entertainment; the apparent purpose is to further restrict the rights of consumers to treat items they’ve purchased as something they actually own; and the reality of how they’re written would make firewalls and network address translation illegal.
Contact your state legislature and (if your company has them) lobbyists and tell them to kill this bad boy. While you’re at it, tell them to muzzle Orin Hatch and shoot dead his harebrained idea to let media companies remotely sabotage PCs they suspect contain pirated music. Talk about a great way to make the life of a CIO miserable …
The DMCA itself has less impact on working CIOs. Other than its linkage to the Windows XP end-user license agreement — the part that allows Microsoft to update your operating system without your knowledge or permission — there isn’t a lot in it that affects you as head of IT.
Except that it sets a bad example for CIOs. Why?
Think about what the DMCA does. In the long run, it will harm existing entertainment conglomerates more than it harms consumers, for two reasons. The first is that while the illegal duplication of music is a real issue, trying to counter advances in technology with legislation is, in the long run, self defeating. At some point existing entertainment companies will find themselves simply irrelevant, made obsolete by technologies they refused to embrace.
The bigger problem is the mis-match between what the recording industry wants to sell and what customers want to buy. The recording industry is selling CDs — physical collections sold in retail stores. Many of their customers want singles, and they want them downloadable. Even those who prefer to buy honestly have a hard time doing so.
There are a few new websites in this business. If they’re connected to the major labels or retailers, the connection is well-hidden. Regardless, I wish them well — they’re the right response to the problem. Buying legislative protection from Congress is the wrong one.
We’re in an age in which many businesses have extended their range of strategic options beyond winning in the marketplace. They pursue legislative and legal avenues rather than adapting their products and services to marketplace preferences and technological innovation, and they succeed. Their success has made them lazy.
Especially from advocates of “limited government,” as most large corporations are (or at least they are when the subject is paying for government), asking the government to protect them when they could be developing their own technology and strategies to protect themselves sounds pretty whiny to yours truly.
All of which may be interesting, but hardly an issue for IT departments. Except that it parallels similar, and similarly unhealthy trends found in far too many corporate environments.
The DMCA sounds to me a lot like the desktop lock-down policies advocated by many IT leaders. The music industry is trying to use legislation to prevent customers from getting what they want through other channels instead of finding a way to remain the supplier of choice. What is desktop lock-down? Many CIOs are either unable or unwilling to understand what end-users are trying to accomplish. Instead of finding ways to make working with IT preferable to bypassing it, they use the corporate policy manual … legislation … to prevent end-users from taking full advantage of information technology.
The music industry has told its customers, “We think you’re a bunch of thieves, so we’re combining legislation to increase the penalty for theft with technologies designed to prevent you from getting what you want.”
What are these CIOs saying to their end-users? The same thing: “We think you’re a bunch of corporate miscreants, so we’re combining policies that increase the penalty for misusing your PCs (with misuse being up to us to define) with technologies designed to prevent you from doing your job the way you think is best.”
The DMCA sets a bad example. Some CIOs have embraced it. Don’t be one of them.