No sharing allowed
by Felix Stalder

A slightly edited version was published as
Cyber Citizens Beware! Shift Magazine, December 2001

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The new economy, like the old one, is all about property: intellectual property, that is. Today, most IP is digital, endlessly reproducible and easily forwarded from inbox to inbox. For the big content industries — music, films, books — this brave new world is a horrible one: 24/7 piracy on a global scale. Not willing to be swept into the dustbin of history, the media conglomerates are fighting back. Their goal is to take full control of their content, restricting access only to those who fork over the cash. But it turns out that protecting their IP is a technological black hole—software that guards copyrighted content can always be hacked. Faced with this problem, the media conglomerates are pushing for tougher laws. In the US, this has lead to the infamous 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) and now in Canada, a similar law is being prepared. The revised Canadian Copyright Act, as Industry Canada states openly, will create "a new exclusive right in favour of copyright owners." Here’s a list of what we as digital citizens stand to lose.

Fair Use

It used to be legal to transfer your music CD into mp3 files and listen to it on your nifty mp3-player (copyright law called it fair use). With new copy-protected CDs, however, you can’t make any copies–not as a back-up, not to transfer onto your computer, not to give to a friend. And don’t even think about hacking the blocking software because circumventing the protection technology itself is about to become a crime, both in Canada and the U.S.

Freedom of Speech

The actual writing of this code to circumvent copy-protection is also being outlawed. One of the first casualties of US legislation was Russian programmer Dmitry Sklyarov arrested in July by the FBI for talking about flaws in Adobe’s eBook protection technology. Adobe’s now FBI-protected software restricts the number of computers that can read one particular ebook, thus preventing people from lending an e-tome to a friend. With legislation like this, there will most certainly be no used eBook stores.

Freedom of Press

The Hacker magazine 2600 is in court for merely writing an article about the computer program called DeCSS and linking to it online. The program drew ire from corporate big wigs because, even though it was written to let Linux users watch DVDs on their machines and allow non-Asian computers to play Japanese disks, it can also make illegal copies. According to the new laws, it might be a crime for journalists to even refer to this kind of program. It’s almost like outlawing copy machines because they can be used to copy protected content.


Corporations like to track how people use their content. The popular program realjukebox sent back information about people’s musical choices to the parent company when they used the software. This is valuable data because it provides marketing and copyright protection information. Under the new law, it’s not only illegal to crack your computer’s software and turn off privacy infringing features, but it is also a no-no to hack into your own PC just to see if this capability is there. This means your own computer works, not for your good, but for the benefit of media conglomerates.

What to do

Revising the law is a slow process and you can intervene. Call your MP and say you don’t like to see your rights curtailed to expand the (copy)rights of a few conglomerates. Go to (US) (Canada).