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March 21, 2006
Don't Miss Cato vs. the DMCA
When organizations all around the political spectrum can agree a law is broken, you'd think that would lead to quick passage of the bill to fix it. Unless that law is the DMCA's anticircumvention.
The Libertarian Cato Institute has released a terrific report (PDF link) documenting ways the Digital Millennium Copyright Act hinders innovation.
Why won't iTunes play on Rio MP3 players? Why are viewers forced to sit through previews on some DVDs when they could have fast-forwarded through them on video? Why is it impossible to cut and paste text on Adobe eBook? In a just released study for the Cato Institute, Tim Lee, a policy analyst at the Show-Me Institute, answers these questions and more.
The new legislation’s most profound
effects will be on the evolution of digital media
technologies. We have grown accustomed to,
and benefit from, a high-tech world that is
freewheeling, open-ended, and fiercely competitive.
Silicon Valley is a place where upstarts
like Apple, Netscape, and Google have gone
from two-man operations to billion-dollar
trendsetters seemingly overnight. The DMCA
threatens to undermine that competitive spirit
by giving industry incumbents a powerful
legal weapon against new entrants.
Sound copyright policy has obvious attractions for advocates of small-government and deregulation. Copyright has become more regulatory, and more market-crippling, as it expands, and the DMCA is a case in point. As Lee describes, the DMCA has been (ab)used to prevent competitive development of audio and video players, cable boxes, and even, for a time, printer cartridges. Instead of a free-market rush toward the best technology to meet public demand, we get a trickle of major-label "approved" devices that must be bug-compatible: region-coded DVD players and can't-record cable boxes.
I don't agree with Cato on everything, but this report is spot-on. Let's hope it inspires more in Congress to join Reps. Boucher, Doolittle, and Barton in support of the DMCRA.
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