Friday, December 13, 2002

The movie industry is demanding protection for its valuable content before releasing it in digital form --- to the extent of floating proposed laws which would require all digital technology in any form, software and hardware, to be loaded with copy protection gizmos, and trying to get something similar through the FCC when they couldn't sneak it through Congress. If consumers are physically able to copy movies without restriction, so the argument goes, they will, the movie studios won't get paid, the industry will collapse, and without works of great social significance like "The Hot Chick" to sustain our culture, civilization will crumble. So the argument goes, and so it went twenty years ago when they were trying to ban the VCR:

I say to you that the VCR is to the American film producer and the American public as the Boston strangler is to the woman home alone.

But there is an even closer parallel from about the same time. As the VCR was coming into American life, so was the consumer software industry. And when that industry was starting out, in the early '80s, many, many programs, particularly games, were released with copy protection gimmickry. The rationale was the same: the software publishers were afraid of unrestricted copying by consumers, so they wound up setting up barriers keeping consumers from copying their precious code. If you think about how many of their customers were teenage boys, the result was inevitable --- the copy protection was routinely cracked. (It didn't help that cracking the copy protection frequently offered more challenge and entertainment than playing the game).

The response of the publishers was to admit defeat and move on. Copying of software, including games, is now routinely possible. (Some game consoles still have token copy-protection gimmickry, but equipment to defeat it is widely available). Has the consumer software industry been crippled? Starting from near zero when Jack Valenti gave his "Boston strangler" testimony quoted above, they now have gross receipts which exceed Hollywood's total box office take by nearly $1 billion...


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