Today's San Francisco Chronicle features an excellent op-ed by former Congressman (and Libertarian Presidential candidate) Bob Barr on the subject.
Here's an excerpt:
"There is now unfolding in a federal court in San Francisco a lawsuit in which several major Hollywood movie studios are suing RealNetworks - a relatively small but successful company that develops and markets Internet communications technology - in an effort to prevent the company from selling a software product that simply enables consumers to copy their DVDs to their personal computers. If the studios are successful in this Goliath-against-David legal action, Edison's lesson in hard work will have been effectively reduced to, 'genius is one percent inspiration, 99 percent permission'."
... This, of course, raises several ethical questions. On one hand, the movie industry should be compensated for producing a product. But on the other hand, we must ask: If you purchase a DVD, why can't you "own" it? If you bought a cassette, VHS tape -- or even a DVD -- you are permitted to make a personal copy (so long as you don't sell it). ... Apple seems to have found a way to turn this dilemma into a win/win, but the movie industry is taking going the other direction.
More from Barr:
"... The studios, in this latest knee-jerk, anti-technology litigation, appear to be flailing about and striking at any entrepreneurial effort to enhance the ability of consumers to lawfully enjoy the very product the studios offer - movies. In so doing, the studios have not only placed themselves at odds with consumers - who more and more are searching for technological products that offer options and security for their audio and visual needs - but also with entrepreneurs and technology companies who could be among the industry's strongest allies in fighting video piracy.
The movie industry's tin ear in refusing to deal constructively with outside technology (that is, technology the industry did not itself develop and own) is even more difficult to understand, considering the manner in which their colleagues in the music industry have in recent years stopped fighting and decided to embrace technology that has the potential for making more music available to more consumers in more, and more easily accessible, formats. In January, for example, Apple announced it would no longer enforce copyright restrictions, often referred to as DRMs (Digital Rights Management), that prevent purchasers of iTunes songs from shifting such tunes from one device to another. Obviously, the sky has not fallen in the two months since Apple made its announcement."
... This lawsuit will be interesting to watch, inasmuch as the decision reached may set a long-term precedent on the topic of intellectual property versus embracing new technological paradigms and consumer rights.