I like to keep up on legal matters that concern me. In particular, I pay special attention to ongoing copyright and patent cases - especially those that affect software.
While I understand that the purpose of Copyright and Patent Laws is to promote the Arts and encourage innovation, it's hard to see why they're still necessary in this modern world. The RIAA claims that without Copyright, artists would have no incentive to create. While I find the claim ludicrous - especially given that many musicians willingly give their music away, and that the barrier to entry for moviemaking has fallen so low that freely-licensed movies are now commonplace, and that Free Software continues to be made - I do recognize the desire and need for creators to be compensated for their contribution to society. After all, programmers need to eat.
What's appalling to me is that these big companies - who actually create nothing, and only sell content they've bought or licensed from others - work so hard to "protect" that which they "own," by working to make illegal the basic privilege of Fair Use granted us by Copyright Law.
The various movie studios and the DVD-CCA (the licensing authority for DVD "copy protection") sued RealNetworks for their RealDVD product, which makes a Fair Use backup of the DVDs it plays on the users' hard drive. It even preserves the CSS encryption scheme (still in use, despite the ease with which it was broken) on the stored copies. But Tuesday, the presiding Judge handed down a decision (PDF) blocking the sale of RealDVD because it "circumvents" the lesser-known parts of CSS "protection:" DVD drive locking, CSS bus encryption, and CSS authorization. Under the DMCA's anti-circumvention clause, therefore, RealDVD is illegal. But, the Judge also notes in the decision that consumers have a Fair Use right to make backups.
So, to summarize, it's legal to make a backup of a DVD, but it's illegal to make or distribute the software that does so, and it's also illegal to use said software.
This, combined with all of the confusion surrounding the decision in In re Bilski, makes me sit and stare at my screen in wonder. Are lawmakers and the Judiciary insane?
On a side note, I'm glad I got a PACER account.