Hunting Penguins in the Desert: The CES Report
It seems like every time I go to Las Vegas, Bill Gates and Carly Fiorina give keynote addresses. There's still nothing that overlaps in the Microsoft/Linux Venn diagram, so I saw no point in joining the vast herd that always turns out for Bill. But Carly runs a company that's one of the leading lights on the supply side of the Linux product market. The last time I saw her speak was at Comdex 2002, when she minimized her mentions of Linux (just three times in a long talk), most likely because Steve Ballmer sat in the front row and one of her missions was showing off HP's new tablet PCs. I hoped she'd give Linux a longer shrift this time around, but I wasn't holding my breath.
As it happened I missed her talk anyway, for scheduling reasons. It was just as well. She only mentioned Linux once--and gave the most pro-DRM speech I've ever heard from a computer industry CEO. Here's the relevant excerpt from the transcript:
Today, HP is stepping up its commitment to building, acquiring or licensing the best content protection technologies for our devices that will set secure copyrights without sacrificing great consumer experiences. In recent years, we've canceled planned products because we weren't comfortable with the level of protection. We've been active through the Business Software Alliance to educate consumers and businesses that digital piracy is a threat to economic growth. We've worked in cross-industry efforts like the Secure Digital Music Initiative to develop a solution to digital piracy. And in partnership with Microsoft, our Media Center PC responds to a copy control flag embedded in current generation TV signals.
Starting this year, HP will strive to build every one of our consumer devices to respect digital rights. In fact, we are already implementing this commitment in products such as our DVD Movie Writer, which protects digital rights today. If a consumer for example, tries to copy protected VHS tapes, the DVD Movie Writer has HP-developed technology that won't copy it — instead, it displays a message that states, "The source content is copyrighted material. Copying is not permitted." And soon, that same kind of technology will be in every one of our products. HP will also work constructively with technology and content industries to implement Broadcast Flag into some of our products this year.
Later this year, we'll also introduce a new protection technology that encrypts recorded content. Going forward, we will actively promote the interoperability of content protection technologies to ensure that content protection becomes the enabler it was intended to be — not the obstacle to compelling content that many fear. And we will also step up our efforts to work with anti-piracy industry advocates and consumer advocates.
No doubt HP will be running a lot of that DRM on Linux that you won't see and that the company won't promote.
Every technology trade show has its moral geeks, pushing a cause. I saw the EFF at Macworld. Maybe they were at CES, too; I don't know. What I did see, in the press room hallway, was an ancient top-loading Betamax VCR, with piles of literature from the Home Recording Rights Coalition (HRRC). The old box celebrated the 20th anniversary of the Betamax case, which gave viewers the right to record TV transmissions, regardless of content. It was a defeat for the movie industry, which wanted to outlaw VCRs because they allegedly infringed on protected copyrights. The Supreme Court called Hollywood's case an "unprecedented attempt to impose copyright liability upon the distributors of copying equipment". It also would have prevented most of the future business for Hollywood that the VCR opened up.
Since then, Hollywood has waged a vicious battle to burn supply-controlled DRM software and firmware into everything that might conceivably circumvent their copyright: audio and video playback, Internet radio stations, MP3 players, DTV receivers and personal computers. Chief among its successes is the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which serves to legitimize, among other things, strangling the infant Internet radio business while it was still in the cradle (and where today its damaged form still gasps for air).
Another group is siding with the computer industry (that's us) against those who would protect copyright at all other costs. Surprise: it's the Consumer Electronics Association, which puts on CES. Here's what the CES says about home recording rights:
First Amendment and fair use rights must be safeguarded to preserve consumers' freedoms, the creative spirit and advancement in the digital age. Consumer electronics products are a vital link allowing the world's citizens access to information, education and entertainment. Increased access to this technology will shrink the digital divide and produce a renaissance in arts, science, music, academics and creativity across the entire world. Copyright owners must resist the temptation to restrict technology. If successful, restrictions will deprive the public of equal and fair access to information, entertainment and education.
They also add,
On the regulatory front, SEA sent comments the FCC on broadcast flag proceeding urging for the protection of home recording rights. In the 108th Congress, we will actively support the introduction of the legislation that reaffirms consumers' home recording rights and actively oppose legislation that threatens such rights and impose burdensome technology mandates.
This is consistent with the same creative energies that brought Linux into the world and spread it everywhere. If SEA members are what they eat, it should be good news that they're eating a lot of Linux.
Even if we can't see it.
Doc Searls is Senior Editor of Linux Journal. His monthly print column is "Linux for Suits" and his bi-weekly newsletter is SuitWatch.
Doc Searls is Senior Editor of Linux Journal
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