Freeloaders to Help Create an Orwellian Internet?

Posted on January 15, 2008
Filed Under OMG! Old Media is Dying! |

While some have celebrated the death of DRM, DRM has been little more than a battle in a larger war. The war pits consumers, many of whom believe the theft of creative works is acceptable, against the owners of intellectual property.

Wired is reporting that the music industry is now experimenting with digital watermarking solutions as an alternative to DRM:

Watermarking offers copyright protection by letting a company track music that finds its way to illegal peer-to-peer networks. At its most precise, a watermark could encode a unique serial number that a music company could match to the original purchaser. So far, though, labels say they won’t do that: Warner and EMI have not embraced watermarking at all, while Sony’s and Universal’s DRM-free lineups contain “anonymous” watermarks that won’t trace to an individual.

Still, privacy advocates were quick to point out that the watermarking is likely to produce fresh, empirical data that copyright material is ping-ponging across peer-to-peer sites — data the industry would use in its ongoing bid to tighten copyright controls, and to browbeat internet service providers to implement large-scale copyright-filtering operations.

Frankly, the record labels should have implemented digital watermarking long before they implemented DRM, as it’s a far better solution. It doesn’t penalize honest consumers as there are no restrictions on how purchased music can be used. At the same time, it provides a means for the record labels to identify and take action against dishonest consumers who have no respect for the rights of others.

Yes, I actually support the inclusion of unique identifiers that would enable the record labels to finger consumers who purchase music and then distribute it freely on the Internet. While this may seem draconian, the reality is that when a consumer buys music, he is essentially buying a license for the music that gives him the right to listen to it. There are obviously limitations: because the customer does not “own” the music, he has no rights to distribute it freely on the Internet. Therefore I believe the record labels have every right to use digital watermarking technology to track what specific consumers are doing with their music. While Paul Glazowski at Mashable is uncomfortable with the notion that record labels might do this without permission (that I doubt they need) or using fine print (that I don’t doubt they could use), perhaps the real question is: if you’re not a pirate, why would you be concerned that the music you purchased has a unique identifier?

Of course, the most draconian measures would include ISP-level filtering where Internet traffic containing copyrighted content is blocked.

This has the usual suspects up in arms:

“It gives them the ability to put pressure on policy makers and ISPs to do filtering,” said Fred Von Lohmann, an Electronic Frontier Foundation attorney.

“They’ll do anything they can to get ammunition, including submitting the information to Congress, publishing research and whatever, so long as they can blame everything on piracy,” Brodsky said.

While I’d hate to see Orwellian ISP filtering systems put in place, here’s the reality of the situation: the idiots who support piracy while spouting meaningless phrases like “content just wants to be free” are giving certain interests all the justification they need to implement Orwellian measures. And, of course, you can be sure that once these Orwellian measures are in place, other interests will look to leverage them for their own benefit too. And these other interests might be a whole lot more draconian than the record labels.

If rampant piracy leads to a more Orwellian Internet, freeloaders will have nobody to blame except themselves. If they had any pragmatism whatsoever, they would understand that their unethical actions are simply going to make the Internet less free, not more free.

On an ideological level, I think organizations like the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Public Knowledge have good intentions, however it’s disappointing to see that they waste their resources defending piracy. If they truly want to fight against an increasingly Orwellian Internet, they would do themselves a big favor by taking the following position: the unethical and illegal actions of certain consumers are giving many powerful special interests significant ammunition for restricting consumer freedom on the Internet. Therefore consumers should understand that their actions are going to play a big role in determining the outcome of debates like those over Internet filtering.

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4 Responses to “Freeloaders to Help Create an Orwellian Internet?”

  1. Mr. Crash on January 15th, 2008 7:05 am

    As quickly as it’s established just what the audio watermark entails, someone will find a filter or method for removing said mark.

    I mean - if it’s not actually detrimental to the quality of the audio, removing it won’t destroy the audio anyway.

    On a completely different level, I wonder how they’d implement ISP level filtering. Unless there was some standardised mark, surely the ISP would protest about the effort involved?

    It’s hard enough for the ISP to deal with p2p traffic, particularly on some types of networks which use a neat combination of TCP and UDP packets to make it difficult to tell what the application is doing without some effort. And placing any significant effort into the activities of one individual has to be a bitch when you consider (potentially) how many people are doing this…

    That being said, yesterday I did hear someone actually admit to buying something on itunes. A first for me - I honestly didn’t think I knew anyone who did.

    (n.b I rip all my music from CD’s purchased directly from local artists at live shows. I’m not interested particularly in music that is internationally available in most cases.)

  2. Stanley Miller on January 15th, 2008 11:04 am

    Sir, This a good step forward. This will enable the industry to better understand the flow of their product through the peer networks and perhaps reveal ways they can better reward those that distribute their content. I always imagined that what Mr. Fanning was trying to do all along was make everyone a record store. By having a unique id tied to each instance of a song once could build a incentive program that would credit the original distributor.

  3. David Llewelyn-Jones on May 2nd, 2008 6:21 am

    part of your argument is spurious; why should i worry who has access to my personal data if i’m not doing anything wrong? apart from the moral implications of this, there are clearly opportunities for abuse / gross negligence. This has been clearly demonstrated several times in the UK of late where the Government has lost thousands of people’s data, and don’t know where it is. Presumably in the hands of the highest bidder now.
    Just because one is innocent does not mean one has to acquiesce to the draconian system you write about.

  4. Drama 2.0 on May 2nd, 2008 11:46 am

    David: I stated:

    While I’d hate to see Orwellian ISP filtering systems put in place, here’s the reality of the situation: the idiots who support piracy while spouting meaningless phrases like “content just wants to be free” are giving certain interests all the justification they need to implement Orwellian measures.

    The point of my post is quite simple: citizens will have themselves to blame if rampant copyright infringement leads to these types of measures.

    While I support the embedding of unique identifiers in music, I never stated that I support the ability for the government to access your private data without cause.

    But I’m practical above all else and there’s a good chance overzealous legislation like the Pro-IP Act will be enacted because consumers are too stupid to realize that their actions give certain special interests the ability to exploit the cries from IP-oriented businesses.

    Citizens will acquiesce to these measures because they have no choice. V for Vendetta is a comic book series, not our reality.

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