[Marxism] Circuit court to Movie Mafia: Drop Dead

Joaquín Bustelo jbustelo at bellsouth.net
Fri May 6 21:58:23 MDT 2005

Good News from the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. They told the FCC to take
its "cripple computers and digital video recorders" rule and shove it.

You see, the benighted "leaders" of the movie industry have been fighting
for something called the "broadcast flag." This "flag" isn't something you
run up a pole, but a signal incorporated into high definition digital
television broadcasts that would tell recording equipment whether or not
copying was restricted.

The FCC in its infinite wisdom ruled a year or two ago that as of July 1,
2005, all hardware that could record digital HDTV signals would have to be
crippled so that it would obey this broadcast flag. What it means is that if
you use a hard drive to record the digital stream, you couldn't the burn
that onto an optical disk -- only the first generation copy would be
allowed. Nor could you copy it over a home network to another device -- like
a media center PC. Never mind sharing it with a few million of your closest
friends on an internet P2P network.

This apparently was based on the tremendous success of a similar scheme
Congress imposed on the nascent Digital Audio Tape (DAT) industry in the
early 90's. 

Have you ever wondered WHY it is that computers wound up being the medium
for advancing digital audio technology beyond the primitive 1970's-level
that audio CD's represent? That's the reason. In the early 90's, SONY and
others were ready to promote DAT as the replacement for the 1960's-tech
cassette. The Congress ordered that consumer digital audio recorders had to
be crippled so they wouldn't make a copy of a copy, and that DAT tape had to
have a special copyright tax that would go straight to the Music Monopoly

After the law was passed the hardware manufacturers did focus groups and
consumer surveys of how popular such crippleware would be. The results were
so negative that SONY --which had a leg up on everyone else-- cancelled the
U.S. product launch for its DAT recorders.

The only surviving trace of the Digital Audio Tape industry is the name of
the tapes people use for computer backups -- those are DAT tapes, so-called
because they were meant to be, orginally, Digital Audio Tapes.

That's also why short DAT tapes are very hard to find. The shorter tapes
carry the copyright tax, the longer ones don't.

This time around the movie mafia figured, with a Republican administration,
why bother with Congress? And they got the FCC to adopt their crippleware

The Circuit Court ruling didn't catch many people in the know by surprise.
Already a District Court had told the Movie Mafia that actually, the FCC was
the Federal Communications --not Computer-- Commission. 

The FCC argued in essence that there was a subordinate clause on page
250-something of the 1934 communications act that allowed them to impose
such a rule on manufacturers of what is essentially computer equipment. The
judges replied that they just didn't believe that Congress in the middle of
the Great Depression had computers in mind.

Now, you may think this is a great people's victory --I certainly do-- but
that's by far not most of the story. Despite all the movie and music mafia
merde about "content is king," by which they mean "give us your money," the
truth is that "content" in the digital domain of internetworked computers
most definitely doesn't want to be "king," it wants to be FREE. Free as in
"freedom" AND free as in "free beer," because in the last analysis, you
really can't have the one without the other (with apologies to Richard

But, in addition, there's a couple of other would-be kings out there vying
for the crown. One is connectivity. The other is hardware. It may seem
strange but it is nevertheless true: both the communications industry and
the consumer audio-visual hardware industry are MANY TIMES the size of the
"content industry" ("copyright cartels").

So the circuit court's ruling is more putting the movie and music mafia in
their place sort of ruling than a people's rights ruling. Still, it is a
Good Thing.


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