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« And the Winners Are... | Main | How Does IP Law Affect Art? »

January 14, 2005

Where the "Wow" Went

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One of the goofy songs my mom used to sing me as a child was Does Your Chewing Gum Lose Its Flavor on the Bedpost Overnight? I can hear the tune in my head as I read Kevin Maney's review of the Consumer Electronics Show.

For Maney, the flavor -- or as he calls it, the "wow" -- is gone. It used to be that we saw stuff that made "even hard-boiled techno-weenies" get excited. Napster. The Blackberry. But no more. How come? According to Maney, the "real wows" require two things that aren't in evidence at the moment:

First, someone has to invent a radical enabling technology -- hardware or software that's not much good on its own but can be used to build something that's never been built before. The microprocessor and MP3 compression for music were both enabling technologies.

Then, someone has to take that enabling technology and invent a life-altering way to use it. MP3 made it possible for Shawn Fanning to launch Napster from his dorm room. Apple Computer and others latched onto the microprocessor and created the PC.

Ah: a "radical enabling technology." Life-altering" uses and extensions thereof. Just the sorts of things a hypothetical "someone" might create and bring to a show like CES. Provided, of course, that the someone gets permission from Hollywood and/or the major consumer electronics companies first.

As Cory recently pointed out, often the most revealing question to ask about a new gizmo isn't "What does it do?" but, rather, "What won't it let me do?" After all, if it's "life-altering," it's a threat to the status quo -- and those who profit from it.

Julie Jacobson of CEPro Magazine has written a scathing editorial on the kind of coercion going on behind the scenes for DVD CCA dues-paying companies like Kaleidescape -- even before they attempt to slip the bonds to achieve "wow":

The DVD Copyright Control Association (DVD CCA) is a bully.

Not just because this legalized cartel sued Kaleidescape, but because the organization manages to coerce all manufacturers of DVD players to sign away their rights to innovation.

The DVD CCA was created in 1999 to be the sole licensor of the Content Scramble System (CSS), an encoding scheme used by DVD makers to thwart the playback of DVDs by anything other than a "legitimate" DVD player.

A "legitimate" player is one whose manufacturer pays a $15,000 annual fee to the DVD CCA (the CSS license is "royalty free," says the DVD CCA; the annual fee is "to offset the costs associated with DVD CCA's administration of CSS....") and agrees to whatever capricious specifications the DVD CCA dictates. [...]

So, then, who collects the tens of millions of dollars in "administration fees" that flood into the organization every year?

The money goes -- surprise, surprise -- to the for-profit organization that manages the DVD CCA, License Management International, LLC (LMI). The Morgan Hill, Calif., company was founded by John Hoy in 2000 -- the year after Hoy founded the DVD CCA. Go figure.

LMI, it turns out, also manages the three other significant "copyright-protection" bodies, including 4C Entity, which is expected to license the forthcoming CSS 2.0 -- potentially paving the way to double-charge CSS licensees -- once through the DVD CCA and once through 4C, with the proceeds going to LMI.

I don't know enough to suggest that the DVD CCA is wrong in the Kaleidescape case. But I do know enough to infer that something about the DVD CCA stinks. An organization that wields that much power should have to, at the very least, put a contact name and phone number on its Web site, post its bylaws, disclose its board of directors, name its management company.

Okay, so I'm no longer humming silly tunes from the early 60's. Now it's Woke Up This Morning.

Comments (2) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Big Thoughts


1. Alexander Wehr on January 16, 2005 3:15 PM writes...

I'm afraid "wow" wont come back until drm goes away.

Our worldwide producers are tired of accepting the lowes possible price for the greatest possible flexibility, and see DRM as a way of making "flexibility" the sellable commodity.

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2. setmajer on January 19, 2005 7:36 AM writes...

Re: 'Woke Up This Morning'

Very appropriate -- maybe more than you know.

The song's by a band known in the UK as Alabama 3. In the U.S., they're officially called 'A3' due to an IP dispute with country act Alabama.

While I'm at it, if you like that tune you should have a go at the rest of their catalog. Entirely brilliant. La Peste, in particular, is very much in the same vein though 'Woke Up This Morning' is from their first CD, Exile On Coldharbour Lane.

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