Intellectual Property

Magic Marker Ban!


Just when you thought this week, which lays to rest two of TV's most noxious antiheroines, couldn't get any better, it has. Yesterday, news spread that Sony's infamous CD copyright protection program, Key2Audio, could be bypassed with nothing more high-tech than a magic marker. By coloring over the rim of the disc, casual home listeners -- and music pirates alike -- can play protected albums on their computer CD-ROMs.

Sony has yet to comment, but one hopes this will convince paranoid record execs that anti-piracy software -- at least the kind that severely limits personal use of purchased CDs -- is destined to backfire. A newsgroup user quoted by Reuters was less optimistic: "I wonder what type of copy-protection will come next? Maybe they'll ban markers."

That guy was being cynical, but such a scenario isn't that far from reality. It's essentially what the movie studios tried (and so far, have succeeded in doing) when tech geeks beat their DVD encryption code. Using the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, Universal and other studios sued 2600 magazine for publicly posting de-encryption source code (DeCSS) in late 1999, spurring an ongoing legal debate over whether source code is constitutionally protected speech.

Sure, DeCSS is a tool with a slightly more focused use than a magic marker. But, like a marker, DeCSS has perfectly legal applications -- for example, to make DVDs playable on the Linux platform -- in addition to being a potential tool for pirates.