Seattle Times gets knickers in knot about Episode II

Someone’s gotta give the Seattle Times a primer on the Betamax doctrine. This hysterical article notes that there are copies of Star Wars: Episode II floating around on the ‘net and predicts that 1,000,000 people will watch the quarter-size, DiVx-encoded movie before its official release next week:

The pirating of “Attack of the Clones” lends fuel to the film industry’s efforts in Washington to crack down on piracy. While the studios’ trade association steps up its enforcement activities, their lobbyists are pushing for laws that would require computers and consumer electronics to be modified to deter unauthorized copying.

Note that the Attack of the Clones boots floating around online are all “screeners,” movies created with analog camcorders that audience members smuggled into pre-showings and pointed at the screen. Without camcorders, there would be no screeners, and screeners account for the bulk of pre-release unauthorized film distribution.

So, why not ban camcorders? It’s literally impossible to make a screener without a camcorder. Or if not a ban, then a mandated modification to every camcorder that would require it to recognize when it is being aimed at a movie screen and switch itself off? Sure, that’s expensive and impractical, sure, but not impossible, not so long as you’re willing to accept a lot of false positives (i.e., your kid’s first step isn’t recorded because the “rights management” screws up and mistakes your toddler for Honey, I Blew Up the Baby).

We don’t ban camcorders — nor do we insist on impractical, expensive mandated “features” that make them less functional — because there are lots of legal things you can do with them. That’s what the 1984 Betamax decision was all about: technologies are legal if they have substantial, non-infringing uses. Like computers. Like set-top boxes.

The presence of ATOTC screeners online is no ringing endorsement for a “anti-piracy” laws; it’s just a demonstration of the principle that tools are tools, and they can be used for good or ill, and isn’t it fine that we live in a world that doesn’t require all crow-bars to be designed so they can’t be used in the commission of a burglary, nor that computers be designed so that they can’t be used to infringe. Link Discuss