What happens when no one obeys anymore?

A lot of people have been warning that rules/laws that everyone considers stupid are a very dangerous thing.  Essentially, what happens when every single person you know is a “criminal”?  It begins to create a sense that rules are pointless and if everyone’s disobeying this rule, why not disobey that one and so on.  These people see the current problems with copyright infringement as potentially being the catalyst to the end of civilized society.  I’m not sure I would go that far by a long shot, but it is an interesting question.

After all, just like nearly everyone disobeyed during the USA’s prohibition era in the 1920s, every single one of us breaks pointless rules all the time.  These are rules that require only the smallest amount of justification.  (As opposed to justifying robbing a bank because of all the greed in the world)  For example, it is against the terms of license of MLB or NFL broadcasts to record the game.  Who actually listens to this?  After all, who is hurt if you decide to watch the game the following day?  Another TV-related sin we nearly all commic – you are supposed to get rid of any show you tape after 24 hours.  (Or perhaps 30 days – I know for sure you’re not allowed to keep it indefinitely)  Who cares?  Or what if you want to watch your favorite play over and over.  Software usually contains wording in the license that it can only be used on one computer.  But who has not bought some program and installed it on every computer they owned?  But most of these things are done in private, so they’re nearly unenforceable.  No one’s going to knock on your door and demand to see all your VHS tapes or DVR recordings to see if you’ve recorded something you shouldn’t.  One more for the techies reading the blog.  I ocassionally see people saying that libdecss for decrypting DVDs is/may be illegal to use for watching your DVDs on Linux.  Who freakin’ cares?  There is next to no way of any authorities ever finding out if you are indeed doing this.  And do you really think any DVD-related studio would sue you for watching DVDs you’ve bought?  They’d be made into a laughing stock in court.

But now, we’ve perhaps started to slide a bit down the slippery slope the alarmists mentioned in paragraph one were worried about.  As I mentioned on this blog, recently Hulu decided that their content couldn’t be used on Boxee.  Sure, they said it was the content providers who forced their hands, but the content providers are majority stake holders in Hulu, so basically Hulu decided to wall off its content.  On both the Hulu and Boxee blogs people openly said that if Hulu wouldn’t provide the videos via Boxee, they would just go and obtain the files via torrents.  Thus the videos would no longer contain adverts.  Sure, good luck figuring out who these people are to prosecute them, but then Life Hacker starting telling people they should use this program or that program to get the TV shows via torrent.  (only “don’t actually get files you don’t have permission to – wink, wink”)  And recently they’ve been featuring articles on how to get Hulu content on Boxee by getting around the restrictions Hulu has put up.  Morally/ethically, I’m on the side of Life Hacker when it comes to the circumvention.  After all, the TV shows on Hulu are available over the air for free and you’re still watching the commercials so you aren’t doing anything wrong.  However, legally, this is a risky move on Life Hacker’s part.  And that’s what starts to happen when everyone just starts ignoring the rules.  The parent company that runs Life Hacker could get sued for providing information on circumventing Hulu’s protections, advocating torrents, etc  The fact that they would post the information anyway shows that even the companies are flouting the law.

All of this is similar to what happened during Prohibition.  Even the President of the USA used to drink bootleg alcohol.  Eventually the laws were overturned because it just didn’t make sense to have a law on the books that no one (like 99%) was even following.  Of course, there wasn’t a strong Prohibition Lobby back then.  There IS a strong MAFIAA lobby nowadays so we’ll see what happens.

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2 responses to “What happens when no one obeys anymore?”

  1. I am somewhat confused.
    While the NFL or MBA may offer those terms once they broadcast it, it is subject to the Sony case just like everything else. Nor do I recall anything that limits the time a broadcast may be kept, the makeing of the initial copy was the problem and Sony provided that it was fair-use.
    Regarding software the “one computer” term, is one many, if not most people can understand.
    The right to make backup copies of software and the implicit right to run the purchased software are more confusing, I have seen many years ago arguments that it can only be run on one computer at a time, installing may or may not be relevant you could run it off of a file server.
    libdecss is another case where fair-use would be expected to apply and that would be the basis for the laughter.
    Hulu is more interesting, they make the content availible for streaming, which may be viewed as downloading and then deleteing the data, but once it is downloaded I am not sure if the deleteing can still be demanded, I expect much head scraching and arguments to occur.
    Several sections of law will likely be used by both sides.
    e.g. implicit agreement to terms of service – which has several severe limits
    fair-use – with its own limits
    first sale doctrine – esp where you have gifted it to me.

    I too am not sure what sort of compromise may eventually occur.
    The studios are well connected and well funded, yet going against the Supreme Court decisions (they apprear to really dislike fair-use) and the public will cause all sorts of problems.