“Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott filed a civil lawsuit on Monday against Sony BMG Music Entertainment for allegedly including spyware on its media player designed to thwart music copying… [more at ZDNet]”
In what appears to be the first change in moment in the DRM wars, Texas has filed suit against Sony BMG for including hidden software on some of its music CDs. This is a timely and positive turn events that should be a significant benefit to consumers to the detriment of the music publishers.
In short, the P2P file sharing suits against platform providers and end-users has caused an unprecedented shift in intellectual property policy away from consumers. After all, IP laws were predicated on the notion that the public would benefit from providing limited protection to inventors and artists, in addition to the companies that aid in that innovation.
Prior to the popularization of P2P, consumers regularly made copies of their music and video content. These copies may have been for archival purposes and to make music mixes or to make entire copies for friends. For the 50 years leading up to P2P, the music and film industries thrived despite this whole in the dam. This is true even during those final 10 years when consumers had the ability to cheaply make perfect digital reproductions using CDs and burners.
When P2P came along, things changed. Consumers were no longer limited to sharing only with those they could easily pass a CD. Now, everyone had the ability to share with anyone, anywhere. This shift plainly injured the music industry and to some to degree film, too.
But is it fair to blame the consumer? Certainly the activity was illegal and caused harm. But, in fact, the music industry did little (practically nothing) to provide consumers a legal online distribution alternative. Since Apple launched iTunes, millions of consumers have paid to download their tracks.
There are those who would argue that iTunes would not have been successful had the RIAA not sued the individual violators. But this argument seems unlikely to me. In fact, the Internet community has proven itself quite adept at maintaining populous control over the network’s capabilities. Had their been a compelling desire, new P2P open-source networks would have adopted privacy functionality to permanently shield the identity of the file sharers and downloaders. This could be possible, for example, by encrypting the hand shake between peers and protecting IP addresses within the local app.
Instead, consumers adopted a viable paid alternative. Unfortunately, IP law has shifted too far to the benefit of content distributors. It is not in the public interest to limit a users right archive their DVDs and CDs. Any parent with a 3-year old and a broken Disney DVD (retail $20 or more) would probably agree.
Today, most commercial content distribution systems (CD, DVD, Internet, cable) provide excessive protection and limit a consumer’s right to use the content they purchased.
It appears that Sony BMG has over-stepped its rights. Let’s hope that all the state’s AGs get involved. At $100,000 per violation (the claim made in Texas), the large content distributors and software developers may start listening.