Thou Shalt Not Steal Goes Digital

Someone I know recently went to a dinner-theater production of The World Goes Round. Just before the first act began, an announcement was made: "It is against the law to record this play."

I wonder if the theater company knows about the latest in miniature-video camera technology. There are now videocams on the market so small they can fit in a shirt pocket. Whether one is dealing with plays, movies, videos, music or software, technology has made it possible to bypass copyright laws very easily. Anything can be copied.

A few years ago a Catholic film-maker produced a film on the Blessed Mother’s apparitions around the world. The project cost him half a million dollars. He was told that, for every video he sold, six copies would be made86% percent of the film’s video sales would be lost to piracy. Who would pay $20 for a video they could get for free from a friend? Some of us don’t see a problem with just making copies and giving them away. We aren’t making any money on the copy, just enjoying it ourselves. What’s wrong with that?

The problem is that the creators of the work are being cheated out of rightful sale of their work. They had no intention of "giving away" their hard work. And, like in the case of the Catholic filmmaker, they have bills to pay for producing it. Distribute enough free copies and they could be financially ruined.

Being a religious, I’ve been offered lots of "free" software programs from lots of well-meaning people. One friend of the monastery wanted to give me a $600 database program that would help manage our mailing list. Why didn’t I take him up on his offer? Because he wouldn’t really be "giving" me the software. He’d be copying his own, legally registered version of the program and providing me with an unregistered copy of it in violation of copyright law. The internet has taken an already difficult copyright situation (CDs and videos have been getting illegally copied and distributed for years) and made it much worse. Now millions of people are just a couple of mouse clicks away from sharing copies of copyrighted material with the world. I thought I had seen and heard it all until I recently learned that even newly released moviesthe ones that just opened in the local cineplexcan be downloaded from the Internet for free. (Now don’t be asking me where!) People are attending the movies on opening night armed with miniature digital camcorders. The whole movie is recorded, downloaded to their computer’s hard drive in a compressed format and then shared on the Internet. Anyone with a high-speed Internet connection can download the movie in minutes.

Many of you are familiar with what happened to Napster for sharing copyrighted music. They were sued in a big way by the music companies for infringement. But it seems that, for now at least, a way has been found around the copyright lawsharing copyrighted material from one computer to another. There is a service that puts people directly in touch with other people’s computers on the Internet for the express purpose of sharing movies, music and other entertainment products.

Now all this loss of revenue due to copyright infringement has not escaped the attention of those who are in the media business to make money. For example, although the music industry may receive revenue for the sale of an original CD, it receives no compensation when Internet pirates make copies of music available. Consequently, hundreds of music companies have joined forces to create the Secure Digital Music Initiative (SDMI). SDMI’s goals are to encourage digital music commerce and prevent piracy. SDMI defines standards that content creators and hardware software manufacturers must follow to create certified products. An SDMI-compliant media file contains a watermark, an identifier that validates the authenticity of the content. (This is likened to images placed on dollar bills by the government to distinguish them from counterfeits.)

So how does all this affect you? Soon you may find that copyrighted music downloaded from the Internet or obtained in any other illegal way will not play on your computer. And your CD burner will not allow you to make a copy of a music CD or music file to share with your friends, or even to download it to your personal digital assistant or MP3 player.

On the down side, music content authors can severely limit use of even legitimately bought music and "fair use" of it. You may be restricted on what you can play it on and how many backup copies you can make.

Digital-rights management is a growing field. Expect similar moves to be made to protect software, DVDs, movies and computer games. John Fanning, a Napster co-founder, is starting up an online movie-distribution service called NetMovies. The company has secured right to more than 200 titles from Blockbuster’s video library, and with Blockbuster’s assistance has several pending deals with major motion-picture studios for the rights on a pay-per-view basis to current releases as well as some catalogue titles. This time around, Fanning is pledging to protect copyrights.

Will the same technology that has enabled people to copy anything and everything be used to prevent them from doing so? I wouldn’t bet against it.

MONTHLY WEB PICKS

This month we’ll look at sites on which you can learn about adoration of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.

The Missionaries of the Blessed Sacrament is a worldwide lay apostolate and evangelization ministry. Their sole purpose is to bring people to Jesus, especially in eucharistic adoration. There is an abundance of information on their Web site, acfp2000.com.

The Association of Perpetual Eucharistic Adoration, which promotes eucharistic worship and devotion, emphasized the value of perpetual adoration before the exposed Blessed Sacrament. At adoration.org you will find its guidelines, statutes, online store and more.

The Real Presence Eucharistic Education and Adoration Association at therealpresence.org is based in Chicago. Here you will find listings of eucharistic adoration sites in the United States, information about the holy Eucharist, Catholic home study courses, an adorers society, a perpetual adoration manual and more.

If you are scratching your head wondering what adoration is all about, see the Catechism of the Catholic Church at scborromeo.org/ccc/p2s2c1a3.htm. "The History of the Eucharistic Adoration" by the late Jesuit Father John Hardon at ewtn.com/library/HOMELIBR/HISTOREA.txt or the other links in my online Catholic directory on this topic at monksofadoration.org/adoretxt.html.

Brother John Raymond welcomes
e-mail at john@aplusconsultingnow.com.

He is author of Catholics on the Internet: 2000-2001,
Webmaster of www.monkofadoration.org