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MPAA guilty of copyright violations

Posted by Richard on December 7, 2007

Oh, the wonderful irony! The Motion Picture Association of America is, together with the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), one of the most hawkish organizations anywhere regarding copyright protection. At one time, the MPAA fought to ban VCRs because they "encouraged" people to copy movies. More recently, the MPAA and RIAA have been the driving forces behind the odious digital rights management (DRM) schemes that encumber digital entertainment and restrict our "fair use" rights. So I found this news just hilarious:

The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) recently released a software toolkit designed to help universities detect instances of potentially illegal file-sharing on school networks. The toolkit is based on the increasingly popular Ubuntu Linux distribution and includes the Apache web server as well as custom traffic monitoring software created by the MPAA. Although the toolkit was previously available from a web site set up by the MPAA, the software was removed last night after the organization received a request from Ubuntu technical board member Matthew Garrett to take it down due to GPL violations.

Many of the components in the Ubuntu Linux distribution, including the Linux kernel, are distributed under the General Public License (GPL). … Distributing software licensed under the GPL in binary format without making source code available to end users is a violation of the GPL and constitutes copyright infringement.

The MPAA, which has consistently lobbied Congress for stricter penalties on copyright infringement, will likely take some much-deserved heat for this embarrassing gaffe.  

Much-deserved indeed. 

Meanwhile, there's more good news for consumers regarding digital music. Retail giants Amazon and Wal-Mart have joined the fight for DRM-free MP3s:

Earlier this year EMI and Universal Music Group started selling DRM-free music. Now, Pepsi and Amazon have teamed up to give away 1 billion DRM-free MP3s. The offer puts pressure on record companies who aren't offering music in DRM-free format to either join the party or miss out.

In the past, retail giant Wal-Mart has sold music with Microsoft's PlaysForSure DRM. iTunes, the top online music retailer in the world, sells music compatible only with Apple iPod and iPhone devices.

Now, Wal-Mart is siding with the Smash-DRM movement, claiming it wants to switch to a DRM-free catalogue in 2008 and threatening to leave behind any record label not willing to comply. Meanwhile, iTunes has already started selling DRM-free music. Change is definitely in the air.

A couple of years ago, I pointed out that Microsoft was defending consumers' rights by backing the HD DVD format and insisting that it include Managed Copy, an extension of DRM that restores consumers' fair-use rights. Now, music consumers have a friend in Wal-Mart. Microsoft and Wal-Mart, the little guy's friends — somewhere, a corporation-hating lefty's head just exploded. πŸ™‚

Of course, those corporations are (as they should be) acting out of self-interest. It's really competition and innovation that are the little guy's friends:

Retailers and record labels wanting to sell DRM-free music are hardly feeling an alliance with the open source / free-love crowd. This is strictly business. Universal and others had no problem dealing with iTunes, DRM and all, when the iPod was the only significant MP3 player. But now that practically everybody has cell phones and other non-Apple devices that play digital music, cross-compatibility is looking a lot more interesting.

DRM will become marginalized as Apple's stranglehold on digital music playback weakens.

BTW, on Friday Wal-Mart is selling Toshiba's 3rd-generation HD-A3 HD DVD player for $298, and you get 12 (!) free HD DVDs. If you've been thinking about a high-def player, grab this deal!


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