The Right to Commit Illegal Acts

We have a tradition in the USA in which we allow the user the right to purchase technologies which can be used both legally and illegally. For example, a camcorder can be used to film a documentary, a child’s first steps, or a birthday party. It can also be used to sit in a movie theater and film the movie to then illegally distribute it on the internet. So is the solution to ban all camcorders? No, that would be silly and there are plenty of legal uses for a camcorder. The correct solution is to police movie theaters to make sure that such persons do not gain entry. In fact, in the Betamax case, the judge ruled that VCRs were legal because although they could be used to bootleg movies, they could also be used to watch legally purchased movies and time-shift programs, allowing the user to watch television on his or her own schedule. VCRs can also be used to copy tapes which the owner has the right to copy – such as his own footage.

So if we have this great tradition of a Supreme Court sanctioned Right to technologies which can be used both legally and illegally, I don’t understand how Congress can justify the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). That law makes it illegal to circumvent the digital restrictions management (DRM) present on digital media such as DVDs, MP3s, and WMAs. What they fail to see is that the DMCA tramples on our rights to do both legal and illegal acts with our media. This can only serve to HURT our economy.

Look at the iPod and the amount of money it generates for Apple. It has practically resurrected them. What if we had not had the right to rip our CDs to our computers in the MP3 format? There would have been no market for the iPod and countless other media players. If I want to take a bunch of tracks from different CDs, I should have the right to do that even if it means that someone else has the right to put all that music up on the Internet illegally.

We could be at the crux of an “iPod moment” for visual media. However, the DMCA makes it illegal for me to copy DVDs which I have legally purchased to my computer. If I want to have an iPod-like device to watch my movies and I want to mix The Matrix with Alice in Wonderland, I should be able to do so! Yet, I cannot without breaking the law.

Even more fundamental than this is the fact that I cannot legally watch DVDs on my Linux computers because they require the DeCSS software which, some claim, is a violation of the DCMA to posses. If it isn’t, I don’t understand why the code was forced off the net.

We need to fight to get this law changed because it even has implications for our democratic society. When the Diebold code for their voting machines was studies by professors, they were threatened under the DMCA for having cracked the code. Yet, the professors were just trying to help us have safe and verifiable elections.

I urge everyone to write to your congressmen and ask for this to be changed!


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