Going to the movies is not what it used to be. Security at the studio-owned theatres is heavy, it's not a trip to be taken lightly. But if you want to see the film everyone is talking about without waiting a year for the home release, you have little choice. When you enter the lobby the first thing you see are long ranks of tiny, thumbprint activated lockers. This is where you must leave all of your electronics, your personal server and peripherals, even your watch, and you had better not be wearing smart spectacles or contacts. As you enter the security zone you're scanned for anything you may have forgotten. Cochlea and optical implants must be capable of responding with a coded RF identification signal to indicate their systems are secure and cannot record. People with older models, or models implanted abroad where such interrogation is illegal, are turned away. Perhaps they would like to see one of the older releases? Once through the scanner you must submit to a biometric ID test - this is where the known bloggers, hackers and spoilers are ejected. Finally there is the non-disclosure agreement to be signed - these days most moviegoers choose to sign via the MPAAs annual subscription, just trying to take some of the hassle out of visiting the cinema. Finally you get to see the film. In the auditorium the audience is constantly scanned by an AI looking for suspicious activity, so don't rummage in your pockets for too long. It's strange that all this effort to protect the movie industry has done so little to improve the movies.
You don't really own your home computer, or even the data you keep on it. Oh, you paid for it, just like you paid for the fibre-optic Internet connection that it can't function without, but now it squats under your TV using your electricity and does more work for the content industry than for you. The nightly security patches it downloads for itself don't secure your computer against attackers, they secure the system and software against you. TV-on-demand seemed like a dream come true when you first opted in and upgraded all your hardware, but the slowly encroaching charges are becoming a disincentive to turn on at all. Sometimes the last episode of a series makes up 50% of the cost of the whole season.
The Internet is not what it used to be. It's expanded, naturally, the technology giving everyone mobile PCs with vast ad-hoc networking capabilities, it's faster, more efficient, and more available, but it's also more restrictive. Since the ISPs were made responsible for the content they deliver their filtering has become neurotic. Anti-terror, piracy, plagiarism and libel filters search every request and response for signs of illegal activity, always erring on the side of caution. Wikipedia's index has been decimated. Popular blogs like Boing Boing now have more lawyers involved than contributors (the one's that have survived that is). Even if you managed to get something illegal through the filters your operating system's regularly updated self-check mechanisms would eventually root it out, or report you to the authorities, usually both.
These days it seems like every time you turn on one of your gadgets you have to fight with its DRM to get it to do what you want. The home movie of your daughter opening her birthday presents is ruined by a patch of grey fog that shifts with every movement of the camera, tracking sluggishly to keep the TV screen in the background obscured. From the codes embedded in TV's update pattern your camera had decided the show was not licensed for this form of reproduction and blocked it. You wish you had thought to turn it off at the time, but squinting into the camera's tiny screen it hadn't looked so bad.
Even once recorded, your own media is not safe. Everything is stored on your home PC, trapped in the solid-state drive's proprietary filing system. Once there, the only reasonable way to transfer it is to another trusted drive from the same vendor - the DRM won't recognise any other brand of mass storage device. In the meantime the PC constantly searches your files looking for illegal material. A recent security patch has destroyed the last video of your father. According to the email report you received that same morning the latest video and photographic scanning protocols had decided something seen in the footage resembled a new government building, the appearance of which is now classified. You know for sure that there is no such building in the footage, it was all filmed in the old man's living room. But there's no way for you to prove that with the offending shots turned to grey fog.
You just don't see physical media anymore. Too easily duplicated, their security too easily cracked, they've been dropped in favour of heavily encrypted and vendor-locked streaming media. You don't 'own' copies of any music or movies these days, instead your monthly subscriptions grant you only the right to temporarily buffer a few seconds of the distributor's authorised files while you watch or listen. Ultimately, that was the reason ad-hoc networking protocols and mobile PC technologies were pushed so hard, not because the customers wanted them but because the music and movie industries needed them to replace the vulnerable duplication method normally needed for such mobile media.
Physical bookshops are a novelty now; they only sell works that are in the public domain, and only to a few die-hard paper enthusiasts. Their prices rise steadily as demand drops and the printing and binding industry falters. Tightened regulation has made it illegal to sell second hand books that are still under copyright - the bookshops will sometimes give the customer a few cents for old books, part of a commission they receive for sending them off to be destroyed by the publishers. Public libraries have almost disappeared - unable to adapt to an environment where more and more books were only available in locked digital formats, they were forced to close all but the largest repositories - and even those are rapidly becoming obsolete. The last book you tried to download to you eReader turned out to be incompatible. The latest novels are now being streamed as well, one page at a time, and you'll have to buy a new reader that supports wireless quantum encryption. It seems odd that you're old enough to remember when photocopiers were still legal.
The only way writers can get their novels read, or musicians have their music heard, is by signing with a content provider who will claim the work as their own and charge people for access. It's nearly impossible for artists to make money anymore. The celebrities you read about, the millionaires who's contribution to the industry was actually rewarded, are a microscopic minority. But wasn't it always that way? There is nothing to stop an author from reading a work aloud in public, or a band from performing to a live audience, but few beyond that space will hear it. Hardly anyone has access to the technology that would let them record what they're hearing, at least not in any permanent form, and even fewer have the means to share it once they have. And god forbid the artists accidentally use a sentence or lyric already claimed by one of the corporations...
Somewhere out there, hackers and open-source software programmers are still working, beleaguered by diminishing supplies of usable hardware, ever tighter controls on imports and the furious unflinching eye of the authorities. They are constantly interrogated, their work searched for copyright and patent infringements, for any new technologies the content providers and national security services can't control. They can write competitive applications, they can make the systems work faster, more efficiently, if they weren't so fearful, they could make it free. What they can't do is tell anyone that needs to know.
Some browsing material for your (dis)pleasure, in no particular order:
Cinemas as police-states [BoingBoing.net]
UK cinema copyright warnings: a call to action [BoingBoing.net]
Trusted Computing: Promise and Risk [EFF.org - Electronic Frontier Foundation]
Your General-Purpose PC --> Hollywood-Approved Entertainment Appliance [EFF.org]
Protected Media Path, Component Revocation, Windows Driver Lockdown [EFF.org]
Analog Hole Bill Introduced [EFF.org]
New Senate Broadcast Flag Bill Would Freeze Fair Use [arstechnica.com]
Big Content would like to outlaw things no one has even thought of yet [arstechnica.com]
The Dangers of Device Authentication [EFF.org]
Battle for the digital bookshelf gains momentum [NewScientist.com]
Quantum cryptography network gets wireless link [NewScientist.com]
MP3 creators to add copy protection [NewScientist.com]
Movie & Music Industry Proposals ISP Self-Regulation [ConstitutionalCode.blogspot.com]
MPAA want control of both technology and customers. [Corante.com - broken layout]
The 15 enemies of the Internet and other countries to watch [rsf.org]
France about to get worst copyright law in Europe? [BoingBoing.net]
French Government Lobbied to Ban Free Software [FSFFrance.org]
eucd.info - Site created to face the threat from the French copyright overhaul.
What If Copyright Law Were Strongly Enforced in the Blogosphere? [ConcurringOpinions.com]
Study: how Canadian copyright law is bought by entertainment co's [BoingBoing.net]
Vatican 'cashes in' by putting price on the Pope's copyright [TimesOnline.co.uk]
Shirky: stupid (c) laws block me from publishing own work online [BoingBoing.net]
The Copyrighting of Public Space [NewUrbanist.blogspot.com]
Jamming device aims at camera phones [news.com.com]
Yet another account of a paranoia-tinged screening [Defamer.com]
No taking pix of San Fran building from the sidewalk? [BoingBoing.net]
A-Hole bill would make a secret technology into the law of the land [BoingBoing.net]
Previously in this blog:
An e-Paper Manifesto
Remember when music used to come on coasters?
Overpriced, Dusty Chunks of Pulverised Rainforest: An Endangered Species
Random Music Generators Save the Earth
How to Save Music
Digital Analogy Management