Write Lightning is a blog from writer Deb Thompson.
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Thu, May 03 2007

Civil disobedience and saving our right to fairly use what we pay

Have you been observing the recent brouhaha regarding the online publishing of that sequence of AACS numbers? Is this actually a form of civil disobedience? When you look back a bit at the history of civil disobedience you can see that one of the key elements of the practice is the willingness to deal with the consequences that follow actions of civil disobedience, even if that inconveniences the one doing the disobeying. Thoreau did a little jail time when he refused to support certain laws that he felt were morally wrong.

Quite a few people now, including devout Christians, struggle with how to respond when laws seem to cross the threshold of personal moral conscious or when laws seem to deny basic human rights or even fair trade. Are those who oppose the holding of this AACS sequence of numbers ready to pay the piper for refusal to comply? It would make a huge statement if they really are willing to do that by continuing to make public the numbers. In the future, people might also think up other actions which hold consequences.

Modern technology makes it difficult to blur the lines of ownership at times. Some are debating whether the AACS even has a right to hold a copyright to a sequence of numbers, much less to demand that others not publish that sequence on the internet.

I think one of the things that makes people so angry over the DVD copyright types of issues is that we're used to being able to pay for something and then do what we wish with it, within current legal guidelines. If I buy a toaster, I might want to toast bread. I might want to modify the toaster to toss the toast to me when it's done toasting. I might want to smash the toaster with a hammer. I might want to plug the toaster into any of three dozen outlets in my home. I might even take the toaster to a potluck and make toast for everyone there. I can do any of these things without the manufacturer of the toaster having much to say about it in the legal sense, because I paid for that toaster, fair and square. I can comment publicly about my positive or negative experience of using the toaster. I can't legally pick up the toaster and use it to hit someone. There are already laws in place for that sort of thing. But what if I could clone the toaster and give all the clones away to my friends? The manufacturer might sit up and take notice of that, because I'd be hurting their chances of selling that toaster to all those other people.

When I buy a DVD or similar piece of merchandise, I'd like to be able to do with it what I wish, within reason. Unless, and until, I clone and give away (or sell) copies of that DVD, I'd like to be able to use the DVD I paid for in any machine I wish. When I find out I can't do that legally anymore because the manufacturer or copy-prevention folks have assumed negative intentions on my part, I'm tempted to stop buying DVDs at all. I can choose to not pay money for something I'm limited to using in such a narrow way. It might inconvenience me at times, but it could be seen as another form of civil disobedience. (This form of civil disobedience, by the way, is becoming one that I find more and more people choosing to use.)

I don't know yet whether making clones/copies of a DVD and giving it away to everyone I know would be a legitimate form of civil disobedience. I'm still thinking about that on a moral and practical basis. And in this particular situation, the question is complicated by the fact that one entity claims to own the DVD content and another entity claims to own the copy-prevention software and number sequence that handles the copy-prevention.

Thoreau was a thoughful, gentle man. I wonder how he would have handled this dilemna? I suspect that his eventual preference for solitude in nature was at least in part a direct result of becoming disgusted with the tendency of society's laws to evolve into rules that ruin a good thing for most people by restricting the freedoms of not only wrongdoers, but law-abiding souls who were trying to deal fairly and who were no longer allowed to enjoy the simplest of pleasures anymore because of all the crackdowns. If Thoreau had ever bought a toaster or a DVD we might have found that he had even less patience than he had with slavery and war. I know my own patience is certainly on the wane these days.

posted at: 10:42 | category: /Religious and Spiritual | link to this entry



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Stealin' copy is as bad as horse-thievin'
and cattle rustlin'! Lightning may strike
such varmints when they least expect it!