I just wrote a somewhat impassioned news entry, siting an article written by Robert X. Cringely, and it occurred to me that maybe I was due for my own rant.
This is an article about the people, and more directly, about how people are uninformed, lazy idiots. With that in mind, you might not want to read it. I will disclaim this article, though, by stating that I as well am an uninformed and lazy idiot.
There seems to be a belief among people in general that they have intrinsic rights. This is of course completely untrue. The rights that people (I'm primarily speaking of Western or more specifically North American cultures) have been put into place artificially by a governmental system. Things like fair use, that crazy idea that when you buy a movie on VHS that you're allowed to make a backup of it or transfer it to a DVD so that it won't degrade, because it's yours. You bought it. That isn't an intrinsic truth. Quite simply fair use is U.S. Code Sec. 107 (give or take). Tomorrow that could be repealed and it would be illegal to quote a book in any essay you write. It could be illegal to play a JVC VHS cassette in a Sony VCR. Or it could be illegal to play an audio CD in your computer CD player. Wait, that last one has already happened. Come to think of it, I CAN'T make a backup of my favorite audio CD, afraid that it will get damaged and I'll have to buy another. I can't backup my DVDs either. I can't play my DVDs legally on my Linux box. Or rather, I can make a backup of my favorite CD, metaphysically I mean, because using the software that strips the copy protection off, so I can make a copy, is illegally circumventing a protection method. Enter DMCA.
But what is the DMCA? I have the right to copy something I've purchased to make a backup of it. The DMCA is the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998, U.S. Federal Law. The DMCA undid many of the previously believed intrinsic rights and was passed with barely a whisper from anyone except the people who knew better: civil libertarians, legal scholars, librarians and free-speech advocates. Of course the opinions of these people were completely drown out by the deafening roar of silence from millions upon millions of complacent and uninformed people. People who are willing to take on faith that the two loudest voices offering opinions on the creation of new laws, lobbying corporations and complacent silence - are saying what is best for the government to hear. Corporate America: we want to abolish ownership, fair use and privacy; Average Citizen: whatever, I like Britney Spears.
The DMCA makes illegal the use of content on a system for which it was unintended. What this means is that if Microsoft decided to release a computer of its own, identical in every way to any other mainstream computer, and say that Microsoft software like Office and Windows may only be used on these Microsoft computers, it would be completely illegal (and enforceable) to force people to remove windows from their own computers and buy new ones. Think this sounds ridiculous? Well, it is. It's also true. When you installed Windows you agreed to a EULA, an End User License Agreement, which almost certainly (I have no access to a copy, but it has become standard procedure) contained a clause which allows Microsoft to change the terms of the license without even notifying you. It would be a trivial task to change the license you agreed to (and is now legally binding in the United States) when you installed the software to read that this software package may no longer be licensed for use on your current computer. It would also be a trivial task to issue a Windows Update to disable windows on the system and inform the user that their license is no longer valid.
Remember that, you don't own Windows. You don't own Office, you don't even own StarCraft. Check it out yourself, in your StarCraft directory check out License.txt. There it is, last line of section 1: "The Program is licensed, not sold. Your license confers no title or ownership in the Program." Believe it or not, the license for StarCraft is tremendously lenient and for the most part fair. My domain name, Jimmysworld.org. I don't own that. At any time my registrar could decide to revoke it without reason, warning or explanation.
The hilarious thing here is that these licenses are totally legally binding, though the truly ludicrous claims would likely be thrown out in court. What is truly ludicrous though, is not what you may think. Even the threat of enforcement is more than enough to force the average company or citizen into compliance. The huge costs involved in defending against a claim make it cheaper to comply than to fight, which happens time and time again in patent law and license disputes.