[WEB4LIB] RE: Gray Hats Re: Re: Jack Valenti: Copyright and

Allan R Barclay abarclay at library.wisc.edu
Tue Mar 20 17:59:11 EST 2001

At 02:01 PM 3/20/01 -0800, you wrote:
>I'm really bothered by classifying hackers of DVD and other entertainment
>products as white hats.  What they are doing is not true civil disobedience
>in the same vein as sitting in the front of the bus because you are supposed
>to sit in the back.  A hacker of a DVD movie is not Mrs. Parks.  They are
>stealing pure and simple.  Now, if those same hackers were out taking down
>tobacco company sites,  sites spouting hatred, and such then they might be
>able to justify their actions.
>Bill Drew

Heya Bill,

I actually think the hackers in this case are doing classic civil 
disobedience, though perhaps not risking the same possible face to face 
confrontation she did (its a little easier to be brave when sitting behind 
a computer screen and not confronting people directly with your body - like 
me typing this message :-). What the DVD hackers do is give people the 
*tool* to choose whether or not to obey the law which, in my mind, is a 
much better thing than what the DVD manufacturers do when they remove that 
choice through technological means. The law says I can make short copies of 
movies and the like for purposes of scholarship, criticism, etc etc (i.e. 
fair use) but the law is trumped by my DVD player which won't let me. I 
become an outlaw for trying to exercise my rights if I monkey with the DVD 
player to restore the ability to make these short copies too!

If these "hackers" were pirating DVDs I'd be glad to see them thrown in 
irons but all they're doing is restoring people's ability to choose for 
themselves. I remember a concept from my psychology classes which held that 
the difference between acquisition of a behavior (learning what it is or 
how to do it) is quite different from actually performing that behavior. We 
all know how to kill but most of us don't and that decision is what keeps 
society (relatively) civil. I don't appreciate such choices being taken 
away from me in the interest of the profit motive and don't think the law 
has any business dealing with potentialities - only actualities.

"Stealing pure and simple" is rapidly becoming meaningless when my "taking" 
a copy of something doesn't diminish the value of the original. In the 
Napster case the idea is that so many people are making copies that it 
diminishes the value of the original since there's less incentive for 
people to pay for it, it "weakens the market". This is an argument with 
merit yet I don't think its been proven that sales of music have declined 
despite all these people getting access to it but not paying for it. If 
nobody is getting hurt (no *loss* of revenue) and people are just not 
making as much money as they could is that really stealing or is it a sea 
change in the market itself? To reframe does the current law apply to the 
actual value or the potential value? If its potential how can that possibly 
be measured?

I'm also not so sure I'd advocate taking out tobacco and hate sites since 
that would be treading on free speech rights. Noam Chomsky pointed out in 
Manufacturing Consent (the movie) that free speech is meaningless unless it 
extends to those people and ideas you disagree with - its a painful but 
accurate statement which makes me disagree with the ethics of taking out 
*anyone's* site for any reason. But I digress...

Take care,


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