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Saturday, March 05, 2005

Golden Convergence 

Item: Wired reports on a bill before the US Congress that would legitimize "censor services," as they describe them. A panoply of movie-makers have previously opposed the various efforts to implement this stuff, both from the bully pulpit and also by joining lawsuits. A precis: you buy a DVD, and then you buy either a special player or software that automatically edits out the naughty bits. The most sophisticated allow fairly nuanced user control over the various editing parameters.

Meanwhile, various smart people have their knickers in a twist about a new Google Toolbar feature which can automatically attach maps to address-like content in any web page. To the extent I understand the dispute, it seems to be a debate on one side about the evilness of quietly modifying the original content of a web page, and on the other about whether there is enough user-volition to describe this as a content modification about as nasty as blocking pop-ups.

Disregarding the fact that an industry that accepts airplane and television (and TBS and Director's Cut) edits of most of its movies doesn't really have much of an artistic-integrity leg to stand on, I see a key unifying issue in these two battles, and one that also is a pretty big part of the DeCSS problem, too.

In short, it's about the end-user's right to modify and use content they have rights to in ways the originator may not have imagined. The "censor service" issue seems to me an issue with good traction right now, and it is to their credit that the EFF has taken up this case as a perfect example of why users would want the right to do so, and why anti-modification laws like the DMCA are a problem. With luck, maybe this will be a slippery slope of consumer rights that leads to the Promised Land for the EFF and Clearplay's customers

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