Jail with barbed wireNot too long ago my son's cub scout den was having a sleep-over party and the big decision to be made was which movie to watch.  Each of the boys had brought along their own favorite movies and it was up to me to decide which ones were appropriate and which ones were not.  In the pile was a burned DVD with the hand written words "Tooth Fairy," relating to a newly released comedy that was still in theaters but not released on DVD as yet.  All the kids knew that it was there and they all wanted to see it.  Unlike the legal gray area of fair use and making backup copies of DVD's for the owners personal use, this one was cut and dried illegal as the only way he could have got a hold of it was to have copied it illegally off of the Internet or some other source. 

Needless to say I didn't let them watch the movie, and without damaging the scout's self-esteem I made sure to turn it into a teachable moment about how good scouts should be aware of and follow the law, even when it comes to movies and music downloads.  We even went into a short discussion about how downloading illegal music and piracy in general hurts other people. 

The thing is, according to a new report out this week from the US Government Accounting Office (GAO) it appears that digital media pirates might not be the only ones that are being dishonest.  More specifically the report calls on the floor the RIAA and MPAA for using flawed data and citing non-existent federal studies to bolster their multi-million dollar piracy claims. 

The report does not say that piracy is not a problem nor does it say that video and music piracy does not cost the industry millions of dollars a year, but what it does say is that the RIAA and others are using potentially grossly inflated estimates in their press releases and quoting non-existent studies to lawmakers in attempts to scare them into passing stricter and more invasive anti-piracy legislation. 

Cases in point: 

  • The RIAA and MPAA is currently pushing through legislation that asks the government to allow spyware to be installed on all computers to watch for and delete infringing materials. 
  • Another part of that same legislation asks for border searches of portable media players and computers as they enter the US to make sure that they have no illegal media files on them.  Supposedly the penalty for this is confiscation of the device. 
  • They also want mandatory sensors on ALL Internet connections to monitor and stop infringing downloads as they occur.
  • Lastly, they want the federal government to police it all, potentially drawing resources away from more vital national security issues.

In asking for these things I have no doubt that they are citing the same flawed case studies in piracy that the GAO says are misleading.  I'm not saying that piracy does not exist nor am I saying that we shouldn't do something about it, but to paraphrase a line heard in a podcast on the topic (cited below) the RIAA and MPAA are trying to cram these rules through rather than admit that their business model which served well for nearly a hundred years is now obsolete.  Piracy is wrong, but treating law abiding citizens like they are all potential thieves is just plain Orwellian in nature.  While this is scary stuff, sadly it is not nearly as scary as the international treaties that the RIAA and MPAA have floated around the world that are even more archaic.

All of these points and several more are discussed in a very vocal podcast of C-Net's Buzz Out Loud (episode #1207) so for more discussion and perspective on the whole issue download the podcast and begins around 5 minutes into the show.

The thing is, I am a law abiding citizen, and yet I understand why companies might want these kinds of protections.  At the same time, the idea of having Big Brother looking over all the data that comes in and out of my computer every day searching for evidence of my supposed misdeeds is ludicrous.  The RIAA and MPAA need to wake up and realize the damage that they are inflicting on themselves in the eyes of the masses.  Calling us all potential thieves is not good PR, and if by some strange twist of idiocy these rules get passed in some form or another I fear the future will continue down a slippery slope toward a "1984" redux.

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