No stopping naughty technology


Well, I see that Madster (what used to be Aimster) has been hit with a temporary restraining order. The company has been instructed by the court to immediately disable its file servers and stop all that naughty file swapping.

Madster filed for bankruptcy in March, which protected it from lawsuits, but a judge issued a preliminary injunction (in other words, an official “stop it”) on Oct. 30. Madster ignored the injunction (naughty boys), which led to the restraining order.

According to news reports, U.S. District Judge Marvin Aspen said record labels “will continue to suffer irreparable harm” if the service continues.

Now when this all started I was amazed (and highly annoyed) by the idea that file-swapping services such as Napster and Madster could be considered to be responsible for what users did. But now, to have a judge characterize them as causing “irreparable harm” is ridiculous!

Lest we lose sight of reality here, let us be clear: the whole fracas has nothing to do with the tools and technology and everything to do with the politics of business.

I’m sure if you sat record-company executives down and fed them enough martinis, they would fess up that they know file-swapping services aren’t the problem; the problem is consumers. But they’d also fess up that they are happy killing off the small file-swapping companies because doing something about consumer behaviour isn’t practical.

What I find interesting is how pervasive the whole issue of protecting copyrighted content has become. For example, consider the rise of the digital video recorder (DVR). In November 2001, a number of major networks and producers – including Viacom Inc., General Electric Co. and Walt Disney Co. – filed a joint suit against Sonicblue, the maker of the ReplayTV DVR, aiming to shut down the firm’s naughty automatic ad-skipping features.

In the suit, the plaintiffs equated ad skipping with theft because the understanding they have with advertisers is you, the TV viewer, will see the ads. They also apparently think this understanding extends to consumers, so, if you don’t watch the ads, you’re stealing.

For some unaccountable reason the fact that many good old-fashioned VCRs can skip ads never bothered these guys, yet make that a digital device and suddenly media moguls see it as the end of civilization as we know it.

Again, we have the interesting logic of technology being blamed for the actions of the naughty consumer. As I have said before, it is like taking Ford to court to get them to stop making cars because people sometimes use their cars to break the speed limit.

While the suit against Sonicblue seems to have been quietly dropped, the hysteria over DVRs continues. A recent Forrester survey found that “76 per cent of marketing executives from the Association of National Advertisers say they will reduce TV ad outlays when the penetration rate of DVRs hits 30 million U.S. homes (it’s currently in 1.7 million homes).”

In all these cases the underlying message is that SOMETHING MUST BE DONE. Well, nothing can be done.

Whether it’s file swapping, commercial skipping or any other naughty end-user activity that companies would prefer to see the end of, trying to stop it by killing off the technologies involved is simply ridiculous. The world has always been changed by technology, and those companies that are affected by changes in their marketplaces are insane if they think they can stop progress.

Sanity checks at [email protected].

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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