Music & Audio

In order to combat the illegal duplication and distribution of MP3 audio files, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) has banded together with over 100 other organizations to form the Secure Digital Music Initiative (SDMI) (4). At this time, the SDMI is just that, an initiative. They hold meetings to discuss how the proprietary rights of the music industry can be protected and how the new digital music industry can be encouraged to grow safely and legally (4). They are working on ways to prevent illegal copying and distribution of music (4). It appears that they are working towards an SDMI standard that would be adopted by recording devices (4). The standard (which still lacks a definite technology) would create a "watermark" that would make it impossible to play illegally recorded audio files on "SDMI-compliant" devices (4).

According to SDMI, their goal "is to develop open technology specifications that protect the playing, storing, and distributing of digital music such that a new market for digital music may emerge" (4). In that respect, SDMI avoids the bad guy image by giving off the impression that they are working with, not against, the new technology.

Another countermeasure, the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA), was passed in 1998 (8). Basically, the DMCA updated some ancient laws to include digital copyrights, and incorporated some exemptions to protect certain parties (8). The DMCA also outlined some specific actions to be taken in cases of violation, like the "take down procedures", which detail when and how one should remove offending material (8).

Acting on the dictates of the DCMA, the rock band Metallica recently provided Napster with the usernames and IP addresses of over 300,000 users that Metallica claimed had infringed on their copyrights (6). Metallica demanded that the users be banned from the Napster service, and Napster subsequently complied (6). However, provisions have been made for the users to easily appeal their banning (6). Furthermore, instructions on how to avoid the banning were available on Napster's own message boards within hours (2). And it's not as if Napster is the only place to get Metallica MP3s.

Currently, Napster is being sued for copyright infringement by the RIAA "on behalf of eighteen powerful record companies" (7). Napster is also being sued by Metallica. just lost its case against the RIAA. These will truly be landmark cases and will decide the legality of MP3 distribution for a long time to come. The recording industry is also trying to do away with the anonymity that Napster offers its users (2). This would effectively make it obvious who is copying what.

Audible, the purveyor of spoken word and audio-books in MP3 format, already has a protection countermeasure that seems to work well for them. Every MP3 that a customer pays for and downloads has a special "code" attached to it. That code ensures that only the paying customer will be able to use it. If he or she attempts to pass it on to someone else, it won't work on their friend's computer (5).

To combat the illegal burning of CDs, many different organizations are trying to come up with watermarks that will prevent un-original CDs from being played. However, with much disagreement about how to do it and with the recent introduction of the Philips dual-deck CD burner, their attempts may be too little, too late.

Movies & Video

Many corporations are also working to develop similar specifications that would prevent unauthorized DVD duping. Since DVD technology is newer and has not been adopted as fully as CDs, perhaps this attempt at copyright protection will prove more fruitful.

As far as VHS copying goes, there's not much that Hollywood can do. You can't go into people's homes and slap their hands. The best you can do is put a nasty warning at the beginning of the videotapes and prosecute the hell out of anyone stupid enough to get caught.

Here's another way of looking at it. Aside from piracy in other nations (which Hollywood has a hard time regulating), the shit hasn't hit the fan yet (pardon my French) in this particular industry. The problem hasn't become big enough yet for the industry to take drastic action. But it will. See "The Future" for details.

Software & Video Games

The software industry has been fighting software piracy for quite a while. Copy-protection schemes have run the gamut from requiring the user to provide the 3rd sentence on the 47th page of the manual, to entering registration codes, to online registration. These days, most software manufacturers use online registration with serial number codes. This seems to stop the casual copier, but more determined pirates can easily find spare serial numbers on the Internet.

The software industry has been trying out these protection schemes for quite some time and seems to have hit on some combinations that work. In the mean time, they fund organizations that continue to hunt down big-time pirates and make examples out of them. They also encourage snitching on your boss or workplace if you are using unauthorized copies. Microsoft even maintains a piracy hotline where you can report instances of copyright infringement.

Sony continues to try to stop the duplication of its game titles. Current Playstation models won't play copied games unless a black-market mod chip is installed (9). Some original games won't play at all if they detect a mod chip (9). Some copied games won't play if the right mod chip is not present (9). To be completely honest, it seems more complicated than it is worth.

...Backward to "Distribution"     Onward to "The Future"...