November 3rd, 2006
The Digital Millennium Copyright Act has inspired a whole helluva lot of abuse in its short tenure. But it's also inspired playful reactions meant to instruct, annoy and protest. Let's review...
In 1999, a 16-year-old in Norway had helped outwit the encryption on DVDs — but then a judge ruled his program violated the DMCA. DVD encryption wasn't particularly strong to begin with — according to Wikipedia hundreds of equivalent programs were created to do the same thing. (And in fact,the encryption's weird licensing scheme kept DVD-playing out of the reach of Linux users altogether.) But even worse, the judge ruled that the DMCA even prohibited linking to sites with the program.
But could movie-industry goons eliminate every copy? Not if "Mr. Bad" had anything to say about it. The online activist created an innocuous piece of decoy software using the same name as the original program — then urged netizens to scatter them across the internet. "I figure if we waste just FIVE MINUTES of some DVD-CCA Web flunkey's time...we've done some small service for The Cause."
"And a brief note for said Web flunkey: d00d, what are you DOING?" he added. "Send me email, and I'll personally help you to find a better job, with better pay, and WAY better karma."
Mr. Bad's prank successfully baited the MPAA into issuing a legal notice against a high school student's innocuous web page (which argued that Austin Powers was "quite possibly one of the greatest movies ever to be made.") And six years later, there's still dozens of web sites sporting badges supporting his crusade.
It's a general rule that if you tell a geek he can't say something, he'll make a point of saying it. In fact, geeks gleefully announced a "DVD Source Code Distribution Contest" searching for the most creative way of circumventing the restriction. One entrant copied the code to a CD, and then tied it to balloons launched randomly over Los Angeles, while several other protesters concealed it in tiny image files. (One even used an image of MPAA president Jack Valenti.
But a Carnegie-Mellon professor's web page still houses an online gallery preserving the most creative examples, showing the code hidden in everything from an audio tape file for a Commodore 64 to a screenshot of the game Minesweeper. (Or at least, an open source clone.) One activist group even printed it on t-shirts.
Joe Wecker may have found the most artistic outlet for his protest. He worked a chunk of the code into a 7-minute acoustic folk song — then uploaded it to mp3.com.
In 2002, when Google received a DMCA notice from the Church of Scientology, all hell broke loose. Scientologists had been channeling a very negative legal energy towards an anti-Scientology web site publishing criticism (and some of the group's written materials). But Google got drawn into the scuffle because its search results provided links to the site. Of course, free speech enthusiasts saw this as a classic geeks versus freaks confrontation.
In Round 1, much of the site disappeared from Google search results. But in Round 2, Google restored the site's main page to its search results. Round 3: outraged netizens linked to the troubled site, in a successful campaign to boost its Google page rank.
Now, four years later, the site has become Google's #1 search result for the sacred Scientology word, "Xenu," and even the #2 result for the word "Scientology." (Google's excerpt reads: "The Church of Scientology is a cult that destroys people, so it needs to be exposed...") On the site itself, curious web surfers will find an anti-Scientology information packet, and even a link to the South Park episode about Scientology.
I feel like I should say something sweeping here about the human spirit. I started writing a paragraph with five-dollar words like "future" and "passion" and "influence" and "civic debate." But maybe I should just leave it as a hypothetical question. There's nearly a billion people online; is there also a collective gut-level instinct about the "rightness" or "wrongness" of information sharing? Share your info in the comments.
The Great Wired Drug Non-Cotroversy
10 Zen Monkeys and EFF vs. Michael Crook and DMCA
Tucker Max deconstructs Crook