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August 23, 2010 / gus3

Entertainment and Hypocrisy

Almost five years ago, Carla Schroeder composed a worthy essay concerning the rights of copyright holders and the fair-use rights of everyone. At the very end of it, she made this observation:

I should have mentioned that the MPAA and RIAA believe that playing copy-protected media on Linux is breaking the law, because it circumvents copy-protection, which they claim violates the DMCA….

Meanwhile, the MPAA claims that they love Linux and Linux users, and simply want someone to distribute a licensed, official media player for Linux.

As the saying goes, the more things change, the more they stay the same. In this case, though, very little has changed in five years, and one of the MPAA’s biggest members delivers the goods on itself.

I picked up Alice in Wonderland last week. After watching the movie, I perused the bonus features on the DVD. The featurette “Effecting Wonderland” shows us this little gem at 52 seconds in:

Desktop panel

The contrast is crappy, because it’s a photo of an HDTV with low ambient light. The second icon is clearly the Mozilla Firefox desktop icon, but what is the first icon? Here it is, at its original size:

KDE logo

It’s the KDE logo! Disney animators are using Free Software on their desktops! Disney affirms our rights under the General Public License! After all, if it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for the rest of us, right?

Wait a minute. I thought the MPAA opposed my right to use my computer as I see fit. Wasn’t that the whole point of encrypting DVD’s, so that I couldn’t watch a movie without a properly locked, licensed and blessed DVD-playing program? Yeah, a whole lot of good that did. So here is a question for Disney et al.:

You are using Free Software in your movie-creating environment. Perhaps not for the OS or the actual movie production, but clearly you are using Free Software in support functions like desktop environment and email.

If Free Software is good enough for your movie production companies, why is it not good enough for us, their customers? Why have you never renounced your position that DVD-playing programs on personal computers must remain proprietary, even after a 13-year-old showed how weak your DVD encryption was?

Not only DVD’s, but also Blu-Ray discs, and whatever new media formats are currently in development; they will always be crackable. As Cory Doctorow explained in good, non-techno terms: When all the ingredients to decrypt something are already present within the decryption system, it is only a matter of time before that decryption system is universally cracked. After that, the color of the bits won’t matter.

Disney, and Disney’s MPAA colleagues, need to understand that a computer is nothing more than an extremely fast, glorified calculator. Even though desktop systems are now doing incredible feats of calculation undreamt of by IBM’s original Personal Computer designers, the foundational theories of all computation are approaching their centennial.

That includes the computations for decrypting a DVD. The theories that made such calculations possible, were established shortly before WWII, and have remained unchanged and unchallenged since then. Despite the protestations of corporate lawyers, marketeers, or even the entire Disney corporation, no mathematical formula needs legal validation to be correct.

By extension, I should not need permission from Disney’s lawyers, to play a Disney movie on my Free Software-based system. Yet their default position says otherwise.

(“Disney”, “MPAA”, “RIAA”, “KDE”, “Mozilla”, “Firefox”, “Blu-Ray”, and “IBM” are registered trademarks of their respective owners.)

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3 Comments

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  1. Michael / Aug 24 2010 1:30 pm

    I haven’t worked at Disney before, but I have worked at a number of movie studios. And all the ones I’ve worked at have used Linux on the artist’s desktops, the render farm, and often on the servers as well. However the systems department makes sure only properly licensed software is on the machines, which means our Linux desktops do not play dvds, mp3s, movs, avis, the latest Flash content, etc. (Depending of course on what the studio has site licenses for). Usually you can’t mount iPods, MP3 players, USB hard drives, etc. on company computers either. And you will usually be running on a version of GNU/Linux/KDE/Gnome/XWindows software that is a few years old because every software change must be approved and thoroughly tested before being rolled out on the the production floor.
    So the artist can make the movie on their computer, and view dailies stored in a proprietary format via the company’s proprietary movie viewer, but they can’t watch that same movie on their machine when it comes out on DVD.
    Cheers,
    Michael

  2. David / Aug 25 2010 3:01 pm

    Hypocrisy personified!

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