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Tech vs. Content

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Fascinating Mike Godwin article (a work in progress) about the conflict shaping up between what he calls the Content Faction (loosely, digital-entertainment companies) and the Tech Faction (loosely, computer companies). (Note that the article isn't at all about what I thought it was about when I first saw those terms; that is, it's not about the conflict between creators of content (like writers) and tech-savvy geeks over questions about copyright. Both sets of companies that Godwin's discussing are firmly in favor of copyright and the DMCA.)

I've only skimmed the article, so can't discuss it in detail. My impression is that it's aimed at the geeks and the cypherpunks, and that the message is that the freedom to have powerful multi-purpose computing machinery on your desktop could be taken away by legislation if the Content Faction has their way. Specifically, legislation is in the works (the Security Systems Standards and Certification Act") to mandate that all computing devices contain DRM (Digital Rights Management) systems to prevent unauthorized copying of content. A couple years ago I would've laughed at the notion that such a bill could become law; but in the wake of the DMCA and the whole DeCSS foofaraw, I'm no longer quite so sure.

To Godwin's credit, he does explain the Content Faction's beliefs and ideas without alarmist hyperbole. For example, he notes that the people in favor of the SSSCA are presenting it as promoting the development of content; their theory is that "if Hollywood could be assured that its content would be protected on the broadband Internet, they'd develop more compelling content and make it available on the Internet, which would spur greater consumer demand for broadband." Note that this is awfully similar to the idea behind the American implementation of copyright: copyright is intended to promote art by ensuring that artists get rewarded, which makes artists (theoretically, anyway) more willing to create art. There's a certain seductive appeal (unless you're opposed to government intervention on general principles) to legislation that goes further in protecting the artist's rights and ensuring that "creatives" (as they're called in the digital-content-creation biz) get rewarded for their work. But there's this ongoing balancing act between trying to reward creators and trying to please consumers. Hard to know where to come down on that.

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