last week gave us two contrasting mainstream reports on the battle over digital civil liberties and free speech -- a genuinely cluefull piece ("A Bad, Sad Hollywood Ending?") from BusinessWeek (a unit of the McGraw-Hill Companies) and a totally clueless missive ("This Is War") from Fortune (a publication of the AOL Time Warner empire).
BusinessWeek manages to highlight a truly disturbing side-effect of Big Content's efforts to dictate the innovation in technology (not that the overt agenda -- controlling culture right to the "edge of the network" -- is all that benign): it's going to to wall-off open source development, pushing it to the fringe of the technology business. the DeCSS case is a perfect example of the genuine hostility with which Big Content views the free software/open source world.
Big Content isn't the type of business to learn from history, though, and DeCSS v 2.0 (or is that "DeCSS II: The Big Mistake"?) is headed to the airwaves in the guise of the Broadcast Protection Discussion Group (BPDG). Hollywood is desperate to embed control into digital television broadcasts (much the way DVDs carry region and content-control) and they're determined to avoid the mistakes made with CDs and DVD: they're going to force hardware and software manufacturers to cripple technology to better suit their antiquated business model. they're dealing with realities inconvenient to their bottom line the same way they deal with a difficult actress -- tell her she'll "never work in this town again" and threaten to escort her off the set.
BusinessWeek deserves to be applauded for their work if only because it's surrounded by the kind of crap you'll find in the current edition of Fortune.
i've held off on the by-now-well-bloggerized "This Is War" article (it seems that citizens in my own corner of the Distributed Republic of Blogistan have trampled it underfoot). in reflecting further on it, however, i realized the article was even worse than i initially realized.
Fortune magazine has managed to take the struggle that's rapidly becoming the key battle for a citizen's free speech and fair use rights for the future, and has blithely cast it as a mere pissing contest between plutocrats and their pet legislators.
Fortune faithfully parrots the Big Content party line:
Global music sales declined last year by 5%, largely because you can get any song you want on the Internet these days free. In a recent survey, 23% of music fans told the Recording Industry Association of America that they were buying less music because they were downloading it free from the Web or burning copies of other people's CDs....Viant, a Boston consulting firm, has estimated that feature films already are being swapped on the Internet at a rate of 300,000 to 500,000 times a day.
 the drop in music sales can largely be attributed to widespread price-fixing, the death of the CD single, and the crumpling economy.
 the RIAA survey was conducted by a polling firm with strong ties to Big Content's favorite politicos.
 the Viant numbers are deeply flawed -- even the report's author cautions against citing them as authoritative figures.
the article is filled, in the main, with the shopworn arguments of the MPAA and the RIAA. shockingly, despite the massive civil liberties implications of this issue, Fortune barely nods in the citizens' direction. this side of the story is covered in a throwaway sentence from Disney's chief lobbyist in DC: "This isn't 1984. We don't want to violate anybody's privacy." this comes right after he suggests the CPU would be a good place to check every bit for a watermark.
that the terms "fair use" and "free speech" appear nowhere in this 3,300-word article is a disappointing indication that much of the mainstream media is ignoring the most important aspect of this issue.