BackSpin Mark Gibbs

“‘This disc will self-destruct in 48 hours.’ That is the warning The Walt Disney Co. will issue this August when it begins to ‘rent’ DVDs that after two days become unplayable and do not have to be returned.”

– Reuters, May 16, 7:34 p.m. EST

First, there was King Canute attempting to turn back the tide of the sea. Now there’s the Walt Disney Co. trying to turn back the tide of piracy with what has to be one of the dumbest ideas in the history of the increasingly desperate attempts by media companies to protect their intellectual property.

It will work when as soon as the protective wrapper on one of these “special” Disney DVDs is stripped off, a reaction between the air and a chemical in the disk will cause the DVD to begin to turn black, rendering it unreadable by the DVD laser in two days.

The reason this is dumb is that until the disk becomes unreadable, it can still be copied on any computer with a DVD reader, which means that providing you can copy the disk within 48 hours there’s nothing to stop you from copying.

On top of that, there will now be millions of “dead” DVDs creating yet another giant pile of non-biodegradable trash. As Homer Simpson would say, “D’oh!”

Want more craziness? How about Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) renaming its proposed antiterrorist data-mining boondoggle from the Total Information Awareness (TIA) program to the Terrorist Information Awareness program. The program in question proposes to broaden government surveillance activities to include passport applications, visas, work permits, driver’s licenses, car rentals and airline ticket purchases, as well as integrating data such as financial, educational and medical records.

Apparently DARPA thinks that changing “Total” to “Terrorist” will give the whole misguided idea greater credibility – perhaps working on the idea that it will be politically harder to challenge something ostensibly focused on the goal of defeating terrorists.

According to the Associated Press, in a report to Congress, DARPA explained the old name “created in some minds the impression that TIA was a system to be used for developing dossiers on U.S. citizens. That is not (the Department of Defense’s) intent.” DARPA went on to say that the goal was “to protect U.S. citizens by detecting and defeating foreign terrorist threats before an attack” and the new name was chosen “to make this objective absolutely clear.” A case, I would suggest, of putting lipstick on the pig.

So this is a dumb idea on par for sheer silliness with Disney and its self-destructing DVDs. What is obvious is that both groups feel compelled to do anything so they can claim to be taking action. This is despite the fact that those actions will be expensive, have consequences that will be serious and ultimately be futile.

Once again we have the spectacle of people with too much power and influence thinking that technology can dig them out of a situation they don’t want to be in. They fail to recognize that technology is over-rated as a solution and under-rated as a problem. If you know any of these people remind them that Thalidomide, DDT and nuclear power all seemed like good ideas, too.

Solutions of any kind to