Leonardo Chiariglione: I reject the witch hunt that seems to be waged against content protection.

Posted 25 Oct 2000 at 02:43 UTC by dmarti Share This

Leonardo Chiariglione has responded to my most recent anti-SDMI letter. The current SDMI candidates are toast, but Mr. Chiariglione raises an interesting point. Is opposition to SDMI just a "witch hunt" against controversial technology? His most recent letter follows, posted with his permission.

Mr. Marti --

I am writing this note to you in a personal capacity, and I hope you will understand it as such. I was saddened by your 28 September response to the last open letter I posted that sought to clarify what SDMI is and is not attempting to do.

After our several conversations over the last month, I thought we understood each other as two technologists working to push forward frontiers of knowledge using pretty much the same tools. I thought that I had met a colleague who shared the same goals, while possibly disagreeing on the way to reach them. And I had hoped we had opened the door to free and open technological discourse.

Your letter changes that view and, in my mind, puts you in unexpected company. Rather than someone who, like me, is looking to technology to solve thorny issues, you now seem to be aligned with people who fear technology and seek to restrain its use. As I read your latest letter, your approach seems to call for a halt to any problematic technology. I say this because based on your letter, your answer to issues some have seen as raised by SDMI seems to be: Does SDMI prevent people from exercising their fair use rights? Then ban SDMI. Let's take that argument to its logical extension. Does MP3 enable people to make illegal use of copyrighted music? Then ban MP3. Has MPEG-4 started enabling people to do the same with video? Then ban MPEG-4. Will MPEG-7 offer the possibility for people to increase the scale of illegal use of copyrighted content? Then ban MPEG-7. Does file sharing enable people to increase the scale of illegality in the use content to the masses? Then ban file sharing protocols or, while we are at that, protocols in general.

I do not want to be part of that company. As much as, wearing my MPEG hat, I reject the claims that come from some quarters that technology for content digitisation, compression and description should be put "under control," I reject the witch hunt that seems to be waged against content protection.

Let me make this clear: I think the questions that you raise are important. But I do not think that one technologist asking another technologist these questions gets us anywhere. I am not a lawyer, and especially not versed in American law. Technology is universal, but the concept of user rights is, unfortunately, not universal in either space or time. Today in my country I cannot make a photocopy of a few pages of a printed book, while in the U.S. this appears to be protected under "fair use," a doctrine of the American legal tradition. Before the invention of printing, people copied manuscripts at will. But the invention of printing made the English Parliament issue the first copyright law that prohibited the unauthorised reprinting of books.

I wholeheartedly agree with you that there must be a good balance between the rights of the different players: authors, publishers, retailers, consumers, etc. But the stance you have taken puts you in an awkward position. MPEG and SDMI are technologies. From a fellow technologist I expect that they would be considered for what they are: Technologies. Let's leave to others the profession of issuing anathemas.

With kind regards,
Leonardo Chiariglione

My immediate reaction to this is that when technology is "deputized" to do the work of law (as the DMCA, in effect, does) it's not just technology any more. Critics of SDMI aren't just playing Pope Urban VIII to Mr. Chiariglione's Galileo -- we're trying to express opinions about the politics and economics of the systems we participate in. The SDMI boycott wasn't even a call for government regulation. It was a request that people choose not to participate in a certain project, SDMI, because of the foreseeable adverse effects of that project on people's rights.

"In cyberspace we must understand how code regulates -- how the software and hardware that make cyberspace what it is _regulate_ cyberspace as it is. As William Mitchell puts it, this code is cyberspace's "law." Code is law.

"This code presents the greatest threat to liberal or libertarian ideals, as well as their greatest promise. We can build, or architect, or code cyberspace to protect values that we believe are fundamental, or we can build, or architect, or code cyberspace to allow those values to disappear. There is no middle ground. There is no choice that does not include some kind of _building_. Code is never found; it is only ever made, and only ever made by us. As Mark Stefik puts it, "Different versions of [cyberspace] support different kinds of dreams. We choose, wisely or not."

Lawrence Lessig, "Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace"

So how should we consider the legal and other human consequences of information technology projects when we plan them or decide whether or not to participate in them? Or should we just build what seems cool at the time?

Technology is to be used, so don't make armagedon devices, posted 25 Oct 2000 at 04:00 UTC by andrewmuck » (Journeyer)

I think an awareness of what is going on in the wider world is very important and if a movement exists to force people to suicide at age 30 then how can you in all concience help build suicide boths?
If there was more trust in laws and rights enforcement then everyone could relax and feel free to make our technological nightmares secure in the trust that no one would use them for evil. Just to remind you that it can indeed get worse I will quote a portion of a message I posted to the DVD-discuss list.

Thankfully this evil of copyright expiry will soon be abolished in Australia by the moral right of the Author to *withdraw* the work. This enlightened country will also prevent 'derogatory' use in such filth as parodies, indeed any 'damage' to a copyright work is an assault on the authors moral rights, so you better never right 'this movie sucks' on any of your DVD's.

Presumably the rest of the world will follow Australia's leading edge.
Aus copyright state

moral rights bill

Note:generaly laws in Aus start off weak and get tighter as they go along, public consultation invariably find big business is getting ripped off by pirates in every other house and that for our own good (and the vague promise of lower prices) as consumers these laws must be as tough and protective of our fledgling industry.


Is there anything like this in USA?

Perhaps you should state in your amici that what makes US of A what it is, is its constitution and that NO interest should come above the constitution.

Alas every country is different and what one country takes as an inalienable right is just an interesting but inapplicable novelty in another country. The universal declaration of human rights has not stopped any of the atrocities in the world and the WIPO hardly seems to take sides with the consumer, so it falls to the individual to be aware of what use becomes of their invention or efforts and to bear some of the moral responsability of what may come from it.

Final thought? I strongly support copyright, but not by any method that prevents the material contributing to society in general. Trust people to be honest, true pirates are easily found and are clear cases. Fair use is just that. Fair!

Witch hunt?, posted 25 Oct 2000 at 05:13 UTC by lilo » (Master)

I don't see it as a witch hunt, Don. You're quite correct, a boycott is not the same as government action. And it simply doesn't make sense to participate in that sort of content restriction.

Fortunately, I think that, between boycotts and the simple economic nonviability of content restriction, the situation should eventually turn around.

That's not a logical extension!, posted 25 Oct 2000 at 07:35 UTC by johnm » (Journeyer)

Mr Chiariglione attempts to convince us with this argument:

Does SDMI prevent people from exercising their fair use rights? Then ban SDMI. Let's take that argument to its logical extension. Does MP3 enable people to make illegal use of copyrighted music? Then ban MP3.

  • Does SDMI prevent people from exercising their fair use rights?
  • Does MP3 enable people to make illegal use of copyrighted music?
In fact, those two sentences are not very similar. The second sentence bears more relationship to this one than it does to the SDMI sentence:
  • Do knives enable people to illegally hurt other people?

Clearly the answer is yes, you can hurt people with knives; but that doesn't mean we should flat out ban them, because they have all sorts of other positive uses. Similarly you may be able to violate copyright with MP3, but that doesn't mean we should ban it, because it's got legal uses as well.

Well, I think it's clear anyway. Even if you don't agree, I think you do have to agree that it's perfectly consistent to oppose SDMI while supporting MP3 and knives. Or at least that Mr Chiariglione hasn't yet shown that stance to be inconsistent.

The point is that "X enables something bad" is logically quite a different statement from "Y prevents something good". Let's make a more logical extension of that first SDMI argument:

Does lack-of-MP3 prevent people from exercising their fair use rights? Then ban lack-of-MP3.

Sounds like company I'd be happy to be part of!

Considering the consequences, posted 25 Oct 2000 at 12:57 UTC by dyork » (Master)


Thank you for posting your exchanges. I do understand some of the comments made by Mr. Chiariglione, but I most definitely agree with what you said:

So how should we consider the legal and other human consequences of information technology projects when we plan them or decide whether or not to participate in them?

My answer is a resounding YES, we should definitely take these factors into account. Technology is merely a tool and it's use can have either a positive or negative (or both) effect on the world around us. We do need to think about the larger ramifications before simply unleashing new technologies.

Paranoia, posted 26 Oct 2000 at 09:46 UTC by ncm » (Master)

Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't out to get you.

Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they are out to get you.

The question for us is, why pay any attention to this person? He obviously has no power to affect what will finally happen with SDMI, and is far too confused to engage in rational discussion.

Hint for the confused: a "witch hunt" involves abuse of authoritarian power. No authority, as here, implies no witch hunt. For the converse, observe recent MPAA behavior, suing (i.e. abusing State authority over) a magazine publisher for posting information about a disk format.

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