Disney's Eisner solves Net piracy problem

Let's make OEMs and ISPs liable

Piracy on the Internet is the most devastating thing to happen to the entertainment industry in the past seventy-five years, Disney Chairman Michael Eisner told the Congressional Joint Economic Committee in Washington this week.

And there is much at stake for all of us. The entertainment industry "contributes more to the US economy and employs more workers than any single manufacturing sector," Eisner slyly noted.

Thus, "any threat to....the copyright industry is a threat to the overall American economy," he explained.

And the greatest threat of all is the Internet: "The artists who compose and perform music have already been victimised," Eisner said. "Millions of pirated musical works are now being transferred over the Internet every day."

"As broadband connections progress, movies will be next," he warned. He's imagining some Napster/Gnutella-like system enabling people to trade movies directly with each other, thereby avoiding the outrageous bandwidth charges which would make distributing them from a Web site laughably unprofitable.

Eisner's solution is controversial to say the least. "Piracy is a technical problem which must be addressed with technical solutions," he declared. "We need assurance that the people who manufacture computers and operate ISPs will cooperate by incorporating the technology to look for and respond" to technical controls.

Yes, that's his solution: install authorised players for music content on PCs, and spyware on ISPs, to flag pirate copies of copyrighted works. A bold suggestion, all right, but he offered few details of how it might work.

The Register doesn't think it can work. OEMs already install licensed DVD viewers, for which they, hence end consumers, pay royalties. This is about as much protection as can be afforded. If this were extended to music, with juke boxes similarly configured to play only authorised MP3s and CD's, identifiable with some sort of electronic watermark, say, surely a host of nifty cracks along the lines of DeCSS would soon emerge.

As for ISPs, one reasonable fear is that if they can detect pirated materials, they might eventually be required to turn over records of who's downloading it, thus forcing them into the snitch business as Napster recently was. No ISP would want that stigma attaching to it, nor would it want the administrative burden of logging and retrieving evidence that contraband is being exchanged.

Of course there's little hope that Congress would allow any legislation increasing liabilities for ISPs. They are, after all, an integral part of the Golden Electronic Ghetto towards which Business, Education and Government are shepherding us all, with their queer blend of glowing optimism and superstitious reverence. ®

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