On the Front Lines in Las Vegas
In 1987, after a Spring Break week of camping and exploring in
Arizona and Utah, my teenage son and I were driving down the I-15
from St. George to Las Vegas. It was dusk when the City of Sin
appeared in the valley, sparkling against purple mountains in the
"Wow", my son said, as the lights grew brighter. "Think of all the
money people have made here." It was the perfect set-up line.
"Dude, everything you see was paid for by losers."
Almost two decades later, I'm thinking about losers again. Only this
time the losers I'm worried about aren't gamblers. They're everybody.
Starting with us.
I'm writing this on the eve of CES, the Consumer Electronics Show, a
trade event of monstrous dimensions. I enjoy coming to CES. It's
always fun to see where Linux pops up and where this large and often
wacky industry is going.
But this time, I'm concerned about signs that the computer industry--which
at least to some degree values openness, interoperability
and freedom--is turning into a category of consumer electronics,
which has never been friendly to those virtues.
A few days ago I asked,
"Is Intel Going
Of particular concern is Intel's new Viiv chip, which reportedly will allow DRM
(digital rights management) at the hardware level. In Hardware
Sassen describes a creepy scenario:
Intel's Viiv is the proverbial icing on the cake, a home
entertainment concept adding the needed hardware support to
supplement the features as found in Windows Vista. And unlike the
concept platform Intel has shown us in the past, Viiv Fork will start
shipping in the first quarter of 2006, quite in time for the release
of Windows Vista. The combination of the two will mean that you, the
end-user, will be royally screwed in every way, shape and form.
That's right, once Viiv Fork and Vista ship you can forget about
exercising your fair-use rights, no more converting songs to MP3, no
more music downloads to and from friends and family, no more DivX
movies, and the list goes on. But more disturbing is the fact that
new content will only be able to playback on the new platform, there,
for example, will be no (legal) Linux support or support in other
operating systems. Simply because any such media player, able to
playback this content, will circumvent the protection scheme that is
DRM, which is illegal. Basically fair use and your rights as a
consumer are out of the window when Viiv Fork and Vista arrive.
With Viiv Intel has given the music and movie industry the tools to
force the consumer to give up its rights and abide by their rules and
has handed the keys to unlock the protection scheme to Microsoft.
Looking at the track record of the music and movie industry and their
watchdogs the RIAA and MPAA you can rest assured that when this
platform is introduced they'll use any possible legal avenue to
further limit how you can use their content. And more importantly
they'll also make sure you pay a substantial amount of money for any
use of their content that before was labeled as fair use, such as
converting songs to MP3 for example.
I left out the more hyperbolic stuff. But you get the picture.
Paul Otellini, Intel's CEO, was not encouraging in
an interview with
timed precisely to coincide with both CES and Macworld,
where Apple will be talking up new Intel-based gear. When asked,
"Which technologies, platforms, most excite you personally?",
I actually think Viiv is a world changer. Independent of the hardware
as it evolves, it's DRM-agnostic, but it protects everything. It
allows you to move things in a free fashion, but still maintain the
desire of the content owners to get paid for what they do. It will
change the business models of entertainment and theaters and
Hollywood, and it will be for the benefit of consumers.
Kinda gives me the cold scuzzies.
Speaking of consumers, the Consumer Project on Technology has sent an
letter to Yahoo,
asking that company--which could hardly be more
Net-native--to stop siding with WIPO (the World Intellectual Property
Organization), which is pushing a Broadcasting and Webcasting Treaty.
The treaty is designed to give content producers the rights and abilities to
control everything that happens to "content", all the way to the
playback, display and (yes) production technologies being vetted
these next four days at CES.
A year earlier, the Electronic Frontier Foundation sent a similar
letter, signed by 19 leading voices in technology, starting
with Mark Cuban, owner of HDNet, the Dallas Mavericks and over a
half-billion dollars' worth of copyrighted video works. Other letters
opposing the treaty can be found in the link pile below.
James Love wrote
UN/WIPO Plan to Regulate Distribution of Information on the
in the Huffington Post recently. The headline says it all. But here's
one excerpt, just to put you in a fighting mood:
The European Commission is also not trying to impose current European
legal traditions on the rest of the world. Both the US and the EC
negotiators are trying to create a brand new and untested regime of
Internet regulation that they have never even attempted to adopt in
their own Congress or parliaments.
Many other voices are chiming in. James Boyle, who teaches
intellectual property law at the Duke Law School and is co-founder of
the Center for the Study of the Public Domain, recently wrote
rights are wrong for Webcasters,
in which he said:
In the funhouse world that is intellectual property policy, WIPO is
considering a proposal to expand the length of the right by 30 years
and a US-backed initiative to apply it to webcasts as well. After
all, we know that the internet is growing so slowly. Clearly what is
needed is an entirely new legal monopoly, on top of copyright, so
that there are even more middlemen, even deeper thickets of rights.
What is the rationale for this proposal? Parity: "If the broadcasters
have the right, we should too." But wait. There was never any
evidence that even broadcasters needed the right. And the capital
requirements and business models of the two industries are entirely
different. And the reach of the webcasts would in effect be global.
And there is no evidence at all that webcasters need any kind of
protection. And, and...
But to make these arguments is to be naive. WIPO is in the grip of
the belief that more rights are better. Yahoo and a few other
webcasting entities have very slick lobbying operations. The US
representatives have, shamefully, caved in to them. To their credit,
not many countries have yet accepted the need for a webcaster's
right, but it is unclear if their resistance will last. The "affected
industries" have loud voices.
What's especially creepy about the WIPO mess is that Yahoo is in on
it. Is Intel, too? A lot of us like Apple's gear, me included--it's
hard not to. But on the DRM issue, Apple is no friend of openness
and freedom. Who else do we have? IBM? Dell? Hellooooo?
which I wrote two months ago, expressed similar
freedom-threatening concerns about what the carriers want to do to
the Net. One of the best pieces of push-back I got afterwards was
from Chris Nolan, who has forgotten more about politics than most of
us will ever know.
The tech community's approach to legislative initiatives is--to be
polite--inconsistent. So far, most of the talk has been a bitter,
faux-knowing resignation that of course the big corporations will
triumph and the poor, farsighted Geeks of the tech world will--sigh--once
again be seen as kooks who are trampled by greedy
corporations. And as necessary and timely as Doc Searls' call to
action on this issue is right now, his attitude toward what will
happen and how is based, I am sorry to say, in unrealistic thinking
about how Washington operates. It is a reflection of how tech has
historically fared, not a contemplation of how things have changed
Searls calls on EFF and Larry Lessig, not on TechNet or John Doerr.
He ignores the role that campaign contributions...(Shedding their
civics book aversion to political reality, Doerr and TechNet have
given often in recent years)...
Her point: play harder, and better, ball.
We need to borrow some muscle here. Some organizations outside of
tech. Who? How about the AARP? How about the NRA? Let's think
Let's also think about what we're saving. I believe it's two things,
basically. One is the right to make and do what we want with whatever
we want, respecting laws that already exist. (And without which we
wouldn't have Linux.) The other is to save the environment where our
freedom to produce is far more important than is our ability to consume.
That environment isn't just the wide open frontier we call the Net.
It's the open marketplace growing on that Net and on which countless
Keeping markets open isn't a left vs. right issue. It's a rights vs.
We need to make these issues as clear as we can. And we need to go to
battle with whatever allies we can find.
I'll let you know what--and who--I find here at CES and then at
Macworld next week.
Doc Searls is Senior Editor of Linux Journal. He
writes the Linux for Suits column for Linux Journal.
He also presides over Doc
Searls' IT Garage, which is published by SSC, the publisher of