Surfin' DRMC - Small Screen Week

ADDITIONAL CONTRIBUTORS BTR Editorial

Front page photo by Bryan Gosline. Article photo by Blue Mint.

Hedonism is the belief that pleasure is the only intrinsic good, and through life one should choose that which maximizes pleasure and minimizes pain. It is the call to arms of the subconscious’ most antisocial tendencies; it is the getting of things on demand.

On-demand, to those far too acquainted with on-demand, is the natural state of things. What is there is yours, what can be had may be had, and the freedom to disassociate from whatever produced it is the privilege of those partaking in the on-demand world. On the Internet, the great manifest destiny of on-demand video begat largely by the Netflixian complex of evil Blockbusterbusterism, hedonism rules! From Megavideo to project.tv, from icefilms to sidereel, and on and on from one pirate ship to another, files are transferred back and forth from server to user, with bits and pieces floating around in a massively communal space of other peoples’ products; ones, just waiting to be discovered and evangelized by the next great web influencer. And yet there is the law; that force that separates us from anarchy – a force that dares rear its sulky, deliberative head into our zone of liberty and indefinite consumption of endless TV series and classic films! The law, who prohibits instant climax and begrudges us to listen to reason or involve ourselves in societal processes and fair-dealing! How unjust!

Little does the oppressive law know, however, that a quick Google search of “Megavideo” offers even the most newbish of content pirates the ability to bypass certain “preventives,” or roadblocks to the on-demand viewing experience. And that they will research at length so that web-commoners can expedite their exposure to Pretty Little Liars with enough time to get through season 6 trillion of 7th Heaven. Even more harrowing than the dreadful “72 minute” wait-time message on Megavideo, however, are all of the intrusive advertisements on sites that actually pass full legal muster. How to best recover from the traumatic 30 seconds of targeted advertisements is a question netizens have pondered for years, just as our forebears questioned unjustifiable taxes from the Crown, those poor, wirelessless sods.

From an adultswim video clip: “Player powered by Turner Broadcasting System, Inc (“Turner”). The video and related advertisements are provided by Turner on behalf of Turner and its affiliates and partners, and information may be collected regarding interaction with the players, the advertisements or this page pursuant to the privacy policy described at http://www.adultswim.com/footer/legal/index.html.”

In the past, viewers could largely ignore this type of language before watching a TV show or movie, but as the common viewer transitions into a greyer state of lawlessness by virtue of the drive to self-satisfy and keep up with pop- culture narratives, this dry jargon has come closer to the foreground of the interactions with our media. If you would rather skip the embarrassment of not being familiar with that time on The Wire when Bunny talks about the “small, wrinkled-ass paper bag” that gave police “permission to go and do police work…the kind of police work that’s actually worth the effort,” you may have to resort to file-sharing options, and you may want to know a bit about copyright law.

Have no fear! When you get your first Cease and Desist letter from someone citing the Digital Millenium Copyright Act’s fair use law, know the law’s language on Fair use of limitations on exclusive rights:

“Notwithstanding the provisions of sections 106 and 106A, the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright.”

Do with that what you will. Also be aware that most of these distribution sites have limited liability, and will forward blame to their users if an artist’s legal representative finds that they are being violated. Though the Nazgûl of copyright protection have gotten to a few unlucky downloaders, most people have slipped through the cracks. Why is everyone so complacently complicit with breaking the law all the time?

In a talk given at TED in 2007, cyberlaw pioneer Lawrence Lessig declared that those growing up amidst Napster and torrents “live life knowing they live against the law.” Lessig, an activist against the chokehold of creatively restrictive copyright laws, has lobbied hard for years to persuade the Supreme Court to take the Internet more seriously as a unique space of complex interplay between producers and consumers – a “read-write” environment that fosters interaction rather than passive consumption. In giving that hypothesis, Lessig became the only person on earth to value the younger generations’ preoccupations with the Internet as a catalyst for progressive action in the ensuing decades. (What kind of a world would we be living in if my use of someone’s lolcat for comedic effect was a copyright infringement? A Meowist Republic.)

Due to the juxtaposition of the lolcat meme culture (the light-hearted, clever, punny items of digital exchange), and the free-flowing socialist workspace of YouTube, pre-internet copyrighted material and systems of distribution that have been digitized tend to be more ambiguously illegal when pirated by those who could seemingly pay; but for most of the world this is simply not the case. Columbia University law professor Eben Moglen posed this question at the Future of Intellectual Property in the 21st Century seminar: “How many of the Einsteins who ever existed were allowed to learn physics?”

DMCA includes a laundry list of exemptions covering mainly the work of students and established broadcast media, but it fails to recognize the non-institutional potential of artistry in the open market.; in other words, the limitations on fair use are partial not to individuals but to organizations who have paid their dues or have proven themselves historically suitable for social productivity. For those on the periphery who have discovered the grand democratization of open source content – be it academic or otherwise – a looser hold on copyrighted material could lead to great things like the liberation from crumbling neo-imperialist structures. It could also lead to some excellent cross-cultural online Call of Duty matches.

Riding at once quite smoothly and now somewhat bumpily on the road of online video content is Netflix, a 14-year-old on- demand  video company that has recently decided to divide its mail-in subscription service and streaming service into two separate companies: Qwikster, a DVD and video games mail-in hub, and Netflix, an online-exclusive content streamer. What critics and offended subscribers fail to understand is that Netflix has looked at the steady influx of streaming subscribers and the stagnation of mail-in subscribers, and acted accordingly by saying goodbye to what will soon become a niche service (mail-in DVDs; DVDs themselves) if all things digital remain linear.

Assuming also that ICT (Image Constraint Token – a mechanism implanted in DVDs to degrade picture quality when played on unsanctioned devices) plays a part in the next few years of physical HD and Blu-ray DVD distribution, Netflix has made a pre-emptive move on what could be a consumer backlash against super-encrypted digital rights management devices.

Netflix has a history of understanding the condition of its subscribers; they got that people couldn’t stand Blockbuster’s late-fee scam, they got that an on- demand market was the emerging status quo of watching habits online, and they got that if you instill a model of trust in your subscribers, they will return in kind with loyalty in place of thievery. What they’ve risked losing in the past few months is that ability to sympathize with a public that felt it was being jerked around by clueless executives rather than the producers themselves. And while many in the movie industry have felt the sting of piracy very close to home, others still have found ways to speak to their audience in a way that translates to profit. Content may not always be king, but the customer will continue to be the spoiled little prince whose role is only to be sated, catered to, and made to feel unique in every little thing he does.

Written by: Jakob Schnaidt

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