This evening while working late in my lab I decided to play a movie in the back ground. This is somewhat out of character for me. I normally prefer not to have any sort of visual media playing while I work. I feel that it is distracting. However this evening my task involved presiding over a fairly autonomous data transfer, and having just come back with takeout dinner, I thought it might be nice diversion to an other wise long and boring lab session.
A couple of my techs had been quoting lines from an older movie to each other earlier in the day, and not having seen this movie in many years, I thought I might watch it. I am a Netflix subscriber, and one of the features of Netflix is the ability to “watch instantly” on a computer. I surfed over to Netflix and found the movie I wanted to watch, clicked “play now”, and as the film buffered, I unpacked my dinner. Just as I raised the first fork full of spicy chicken to my famished lips, I am presented with this most unsettling of screens:
Shocked and amazed, I followed the two on screen steps, but alas, the same error persisted. Being particularly resourceful (and momentary Sociophobic), I opted not to call the number provided, but rather Google the three key bits of information about my problem, “Macintosh” “Netflix” “Error Code 8151″.
The results from Google while insightful where ultimately unhelpful in fixing my problem. I tried various permutations of reinstalling the Microsoft SilverLight software. I tired updating various Apple kext and plist files. After 45 minutes of trying various things, I realized that my as yet untouched diner was cold, and I had extended my “long and boring lab session” by 45 minutes chasing a problem that should not even existed in the first place. My problem is that I had at some point worked with various sub-sub-sub settings on my Mac, and now the software which playes Netflix could no longer determined if my computer could be “trusted” to play digital content.
After taking the first bight of my now cold dinner, my visceral reaction was to call the 866-579-7113 number and verbally impart my frustration on whoever answered the phone to such a degree that they would go home crying at the end of the conversation, never to return to call center work again. However, my intellect overrode that ideal, because I know that whoever answered the phone would not personally be responsible for this DRM debacle. Then it occurred to me, not even Netflix itself is really responsible. I’m sure Netflix could care less about DRM, they are in the business to rent DVDs by mail, and offer digital downloads to subscribers. The more logical focus of my anger should be on the Copyright Holders who undoubtedly put this DRM requirement on Netflix as a precondition to offering the film for online viewing. (Of course following that logic I should be angry at the government for passing such arcane laws that empower Copyright Holders. Then be mad at the American people for electing the government. But I’ll stop at the Copyright Holders).
It was then I had an Epiphany – the sudden realization of a fundamental truth. That truth was at that moment, it was easier to download that movie from a file sharing site (Pirate Bay, Mininova, etc) than it was to try and fix this issue so as to watch the movie legitimately. Even further in my Epiphany, I realized that this moment I had every moral right to acquire a copy of this film in any manor I chose. (So long as my acquisition did not deprive someone else of the ability to watch the movie.)
Here is my rational.
1. In the 1980s I paid (well my parents paid, i was only a kid) to see this film in a theater.
2. I have purchased two copies of this movie over the years, once in VHS, then in DVD.
3. I have a Netflix account, with which I pay to have access to ANY AND ALL films in their digital download catalog.
4. I made a good faith effort to abide by the frame work to obtain this film via a method approved by the copyright holder.
5. Having personally perviously paid for a license for a Analog copy (VHS), a Digital Copy (DVD), and Digital Download Availability (Netflix), and in light of the failure of that Digital Download Availability, I am not morally, or ethically, bound to abide by artificial restrictions put into place by the Copyright Holder to protect their digital rights.
Simply put, the protection of the copyright holder’s rights is not applicable, because I otherwise have the “right” to have and view the content. So if the copyright holder’s rights are not applicable, then I can obtain and view the content in the manor of my choosing.
This train of thought that lead me to realizing that I had a moral right to get that movie anyway I wanted might simultaneously seem complicated to the layperson, and overly simplistic/naive to a copyright attorney. I think there in lies the problem. You see, copyright law is an immensely complicated affair. Copyright law touches each of us in profound ways everyday. We normally think of copyright law when it comes to “big” things like movies, tv, or books. But it is all pervasive in our society, from the labels on soap cans, to the background music at the grocery store, even to the logo’s imprinted on the tags of our clothing. When you have such a integral part of our existence governed by incomprehensible laws, the people will simply ignore those laws in favor of a more reasonable path. No amount of law suites, congressional lobbying, or advertising campaigns can stop or change that.
The lesson to the MPAA and anyone else who supports the current Copyright model is this: 1. If you fail to make your content available, 2. Available in a manor which works any/all the time, and 3. Available at a price which is competitive in the market, others WILL make your content available. MPAA, your competition makes YOUR content available, universal, and free. Good luck fighting that… my torrent just finished and I’m going to watch a movie.