Monday, February 19, 2007

The Evils Of DRM And Other Consumer Headaches

Major record companies and movie studios are, basically, idiots. When people began sharing audio files online, they didn't set up legal online record stores. They just tried to shut the illegal ones down. Finally, iTunes woke them up to a MULTI-BILLION DOLLAR business and now, finally, downloads are widely and legally available. And people use them. But Digital Rights Management (one term for how companies try to protect their product with tehnological handcuffs) results in players not working with each other and often themselves. People buy songs from one site and can't play them on another. This idiocy extends to hardware, which is filled with all sorts of gimmicks to try and keep people from using their own machines in perfectly legal ways. If you've got a recent DVD playe and VCR hooked up, often one of them will simply refuse to work in case you wanted to make a copy of a DVD to keep in your car or boat or second house (even though you have that legal right). I just bought a DVD recorder, only to find out that Turner Classic Movies sends out a signal to keep my player from working when I've recorded their channel. Now I own thousands of DVDs. And I have the legal right to time-shift a movie on TCM, which is to say if a movie is on at 3 am and I want to watch it a week later, I can record it and make a copy. Besides, if I were to record a movie off TCM, it would be some curio that is not available on DVD or VHS and probably never will be -- and if it were, I'd buy it. Or if I wouldn't buy it, it wouldn't be because I could make a copy of it but because it would never be worth my while. Like 1939's "Way Down South," a true curio (cowritten by Langston Hughes) that makes "Gone With The Wind" seem progressive. I wanted to save a scene where our slave-owning hero, little Bobby Breen, comforted his chattel (who were about to be sold off) by singing the spiritual "Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child" in his high soprano. It's a deliriously odd moment, hilarious and awful. But after five tries with my DVD recorder, I finally realized what was up.

Some day soon, the Electronic Frontier Foundation or someone will hopefully launch a class-action lawsuit against all the manufacturers who sell products that refuse to do what they're advertised for and block consumers from perfectly lawful behavior. Sign me up.

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