Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Technologies that the US Congress tried to kill


Who Wanted it Killed: The movie studios. The MPAA's Jack Valenti famously testified before Congress that "The VCR is to the American film producer and the American public as the Boston strangler is to the woman home alone."

How it Worked Out: No fewer than six bills were introduced in Congress to control the VCR. The MPAA finally dropped its demands that VCRs be outlawed, instead supporting bills that would require licensing of VCRs, royalties on the sale of blank videocassettes, and a copyright owner's permission before renting out video tapes. In the end, Congress decided to wait and see what the Supreme Court decided in the famous Sony Vs. Universal case. In 2002, the DMCA required all VCRs to include "automatic gain control," thus making Macrovision copy protection an integral part of all VCRs.


Who Wanted it Killed: John Philip Sousa, the guy who wrote "Stars and Stripes Forever." He testified before Congress that both the gramophone and the player piano would put musicians out of business. And that they would stifle composers from writing new music by removing "all incentive to further creative work." In marathon hearings, Sousa and the American Copyright League argued in favor of a bill which would have given copyright owners control over all sales (including resale) of their work.

How it Worked Out: In the end, Congress passed a milder bill, which simply assured musicicans and composers royalties from recordings. Sousa was satisfied, and in 1923, he told Thomas Edison, "You have made the art of the musician immortal, Mr. Edison."

Mp3 players

Who Wanted it Killed: Congress had tried to pass a few laws to protect copyright owners in the past, which were so broadly written that they would have banned a wide range of technologies, including mp3 players. There was the Induce Act, which would have banned any technology that induces people to violate copyright. Earlier, there was the Consumer Broadband and Digital Television Promotion Act, which banned any devices that could be used to read digital content that didn't have Digital Rights Management (DRM) built in.

How it Worked Out: So far, none of these bills has passed, so your iPod is safe.

Update:  What started out as stand-alone players are now part of every new phone, most cars, and tablets. The music industry should be thankful, as the ability to take music with you anywhere has made it an even more valuable commodity than ever.

DAT (Digital Audio Tape) recorders

Who Wanted it Killed: The music industry. Congress held hearings throughout the late 1980s over whether to stop this digital technology from coming to consumers. Music industry lobbyists demanded that DAT players be fitted with technology that would degrade the sound quality of any music copied on them, or that sales of DAT tapes include a royalty payment to the music industry. The recorders were in limbo, waiting on the court's decision and were not for sale even after production started.

How it Worked Out: Digital audio tapes became subject to a compulsory licensing scheme. The technology flopped once it was released under control of the content industry, partly because the sales delay led to disinterest in consumers.

Update: Little did the music industry anticipate, but the DAT recorder, which came in a portable version perfect for recording live music in high digital quality, would eventually be made obsolete by the modern high quality digital recorder (pictured), which uses flash memory to store the music. Modern technology has evolved so rapidly, the government and the entertainment industry can't keep up.

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