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They Forgot Us

Week of December 15, 2001

They forgot the one big, dominant group of consumers they should have been most worried about.

Dmitry Sklyarov has been released. After five months of harassment, confinement and jail. He's free to return to Russia.

He's expected to testify on behalf of the government of the USA and against his employer ElcomSoft, the CEO of which came out to California to support him earlier this year. How that part of the DMCA circus will go is uncertain.

What is aggravating is that proponents of his release, including the EFF, are expected to jump for joy now, grateful that the almighty Big Brother US FBI has released him. Dmitry is probably expected to kiss the ground on the tarmac of the airport in Moscow when he returns. No one has even considered prosecuting the United States of America for kidnapping, which they should.

Put the DMCA, MPA, UCITA and all these other technologies and laws together and you have something directly Orwellian. It's the survival of the greedy and less intellectually gifted against ordinary (and relatively intelligent) mankind. You can't expose weak programming anymore as a danger to consumers and their personal integrity and security. Doing so violates the DMCA. You may not conduct bona-fide security research. You'd be violating someone's rights somewhere under the DMCA.

The entertainment industry is getting very nasty too. Anti-rip CDs have been tested in England, with less than favourable results. The paranoid ideas of Hollywood are even worse. At one time or another, moguls in the entertainment capital of the world have considered the following strategies for protection of 'their rights'.

  1. DvDs which only play back a certain number of times. The consumer has to keep a telephone line open all during the playback, otherwise the playback is broken. The consumer may request an additional playback however - a bit like Microsoft Product Activation.
  2. Regionalised DvDs. You can't buy a DvD movie on a trip abroad and bring it home. It won't play. They're regionalised - ie they are set to play with DvD players which are marketed for the same region of the world. (As the manufacturers of the players and the owners of the big Hollywood movie companies are basically one and the same today, this is not difficult to coordinate.) Movies and rental videos are scheduled for release in different world regions to maximise profits.
  3. Pay-per-view sensors. These are mounted on your TV and they count the number of people in the room when you want to begin watching the programme you've bought. They must be left on for the duration of the view. If they are dismounted, or if the number or identity of people in the room changes, the transmission is terminated.

All of these people - Adobe, lobbyists for UCITA, Microsoft, Hollywood - claim they have to watch out for that little group that wants to rip them off. DvDs are so good they may be used for illicit production, and so may CDs, they are now saying. Microsoft wants you to call them to make your PC work. UCITA gives Microsoft the right to drop malicious emails in your mailbox to completely disable your PC if you don't pay them on time, etc.

They forgot us. They forgot the one big, dominant group of consumers they should have been most worried about. We are the ones who have faithfully gone out and bought their products and given them the revenues to invest in researching these schemes.

When the major bureaux publish news of the latest schemes, they are not targeting the hackers and crackers and criminals. They are targeting us, because they know we are justifiably enraged that vendors of the products we love be wasting our money on stupid schemes which can never hurt them and very likely will hurt us.

We can give them a few subtle reminders. We can stick to VHS until they stop their DvD shenanigans. We can frequent used CD stores so their anti-rip CDs never sell. If we want, we can boycott these ridiculous ideas by ridiculous people until they stop.

We can find a way to put the USA under the auspices of a higher power so they don't kidnap visitors to their country anymore, and pay dearly when they've been brazen and foolish enough to try.

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