Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Gadgets as Tyrants - New York Times:

THE 40th annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last week was packed, as usual, with cool new technology. New devices included ultra-thin/ultrawide TV displays, networked entertainment systems and innumerable gadgets that bring music, movies and television to our hands and homes in new ways.

But many of these new products limit our freedom to use and share the music, movies and other content they are intended for.

It wasn’t always like this. Decades ago, audiocassette and videocassette recorders gave consumers the power to copy audiotapes and videotapes — a power previously reserved for a locked world of retailers and distributors.

The 1984 Betamax case, in which the United States Supreme Court ruled that technology companies aren’t liable for copyright infringement when people misuse their products, encouraged still more innovation. There was a flood of gadgets that enabled us to copy things, including personal computers, CD burners and TiVo.

Since then, the entertainment industry has put pressure on electronics manufacturers to limit the consumer’s ability to make copies. And as a result, many of the tens of thousands of products displayed last week on the Vegas expo floor, as attractive and innovative as they are, are designed to restrict our use.

11:04 AM