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Copyright Holders Wield Far Too Much Power

August 7th, 2012

Today’s legal and technical systems give far too much power to copyright holders, in ways that range from annoying to ruinous. Content owners have bulled their way into most every crevasse, dictating unreasonable terms and causing headaches wherever they go–and usually to no good effect.

DRM in HDMI cables, for example, made my brand-new DVR completely unusable for perfectly legal recording of hi-def TV shows, for example. Content providers have litigated their way to getting a cut of blank media sales, extorting who knows how much without even any proof that they lose any sales to piracy. And speaking of extortion, they have started an industry of nuisance lawsuits, preying on people with unreliable IP address identification, forcing them to pay thousands of dollars in what amounts to a shakedown, or face even more than that in legal fees alone. Meanwhile, copy-protection schemes forced on paying users create all kinds of limitations and annoyances–while non-paying pirates have full and free use of media at the highest qualities.

One of the many results of this campaign is policies concerning content-playing services like YouTube, which bend over backwards to please content owners. You may have noticed that if you make a home movie and add a bit of your favorite music to it, YouTube will probably mute the audio or apply restrictions and ads; fair use is not recognized, nor are international variations in law. It doesn’t have to be a directly-applied soundtrack, it can be just a snippet of music playing in the background; that’s enough to have your content taken down on copyright violation grounds.

However, content owners are given far too much leeway. One recent example occurred when a hapless YouTube uploader tried to put up a video of himself outdoors collecting a wild salad. There was no music playing, just this guy talking in a natural setting. The music licensing company Rumblefish demanded the video be taken down. Apparently, the birdsongs in the background were claimed by the company to be part of their copyrighted catalog.

NASA, however, is a more recent victim, with the news services playing the villains. NASA created a video of the LCROSS spacecraft crashing into the moon, and placed in the public domain–as are all NASA videos, being paid for with taxpayer money.

Well, not so much. The Associated Press claimed ownership, and YouTube obligingly conceded, taking down many accounts for “copyright violations” when they uploaded the NASA video to YouTube. One can only guess that the AP simply copyrights all video and audio that they pass on, even public domain content they have no right claiming ownership of.

But that was three years ago–and NASA continues to be plagued. This week, one of NASA’s own videos on NASA’s own YouTube page was claimed as the private property of the Scripps News Service, which had the video taken down.

Scripps eventually apologized for the “mistake,” but the content companies continue their practices of throwing copyright notices over broad swaths of content, whether they actually own it or not, penalizing countless people, many of whom have done nothing wrong–and most of whom constitute no threat or harm to any copyright holders. It has simply become a broad game of marking territory and punishing people without review or standing.

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  1. brad
    August 11th, 2012 at 17:30 | #1

    Would you have any references to hand about the DRM in HDMI cables? I’ve researched the topic a couple of times, being paranoid about such, and still yet to purchase a hi-def television setup (pretty soon, hopefully). I thought the DRM was in the sending and/or receiving equipment, not the actual cable?! I’m worried that I won’t be able to send hi-def from my Linux PC to a hi-def TV.

    I guess as long as the US government allows professional lobbyists to curry favour the copyright police will continue to wield power. I don’t know how it works but I’ve always been amazed that ‘lobbying’ is such a recognised, official and extensive occupation in the corridors of power. It seems to run at cross purposes with the idea of a government ‘by the people, for the people’. I guess I’m naive about how such things work.

  2. Luis
    August 11th, 2012 at 17:47 | #2


    Sorry, I don’t know the specifics. I know that HDMI works fine with signal which is not copy-protected, but if you have a Blu-ray in your PC and want to go out to a TV via HDMI, then it may not work. Same could happen with any officially-purchased commercial media. I am not sure if there are different kinds of HDMI ports or buses that handle the DRM, all I know is that it can bite you in the ass.

    I bought an HDTV a few years back and got a Blu-ray player with a DVR built in. My intent was NOT to copy Blu-rays (I have not and have no wish to) but simply to record Hi-def content that I paid for via cable TV, so I could time-shift and watch programs I would not be around to watch when they were broadcast.

    But when I plugged it in, it didn’t work. The explanation was that the cable box will only deliver HD content via HDMI, and that will only work directly into the TV; if I put it into the DVR, it goes black. Essentially, “Screw you paying user! We don’t recognize fair use!”

    Makes you understand why people feel justified to pirate stuff.

  3. Troy
    August 12th, 2012 at 06:33 | #3

    I think the problem is the DVR device was designed to not record copy-protected digital content.

    The cable’s role in this is just being a digital conduit, there’s no DRM per se in the cable, but being digital it allows DRM to persist between the content provider (cable box) and end consumer of the bits (the DVR).

    To record the show you’d have to use an analog connection to your DVR, or convert the signal to analog somewhere, then back to digital, and then to the DVR over HDMI, since that would also strip the copy protection in the bits.

  4. brad
    August 12th, 2012 at 19:13 | #4

    Thanks Luis, Troy.

    > Essentially, “Screw you paying user! We don’t recognize fair use!”

    Ah, I see; I didn’t realise there was a cable box in your setup, thanks. That’s a pretty raw deal, I fully understand and empathise with your frustration. They’ve judged you guilty of wanting to record and copy/sell their precious copyrighted material, before the fact, and deliberately hobbled the power of the technology. Arrgh. Infuriating.

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