(H/t to Robert Heinlein for the post title. I'm not suggesting anything nearly as radical as what he describes in his story of the same name.)
I caught the tail end of a segment on NPR's evening business report tonight as I was driving home from class. It would appear that someone is pulling the RIAA's chain again (or vice-versa) about digital rights management. I'm not sufficiently interested in the details to look them up, but no matter. There must come a day when the RIAA wakes up to and accepts the salient fact that it will never again be able to monopolize the music market in the way that it did 20 or 40 or 60 years ago.
That is, however, unlikely to keep them from trying. Repeatedly.
The Digital Millennium Copyright Act, another legacy of Bill Clinton's that progressives would do well to forget--but only after erasing it from the statute book--is a godsend to the recording industry. It extends copyright far beyond anything the Framers ever intended, and well beyond the limits necessary to protect intellectual property, and concentrates most of the power in the hands of a very few, very greedy corporate fatcats looking to get fatter still.
It's because of DMCA that when you download something off iTunes, for example, you have a hell of a time copying it to another computer or backing it up in a different format. Once upon a time, when music was produced primarily on vinyl, once you'd bought it, you could do with it whatever you pleased. You could play it on any compatible machine, whether yours or anyone else's. You could resell it when you got tired of it. You could rerecord it on audiotape, either as-is or in combination with a variety of other music, whether for the purpose of enjoying your purchased music in other settings or to create your own compilation.
In the DMCA world, on the other hand, and as far as the recording industry is concerned, when you download an MP3 file from iTunes or Napster or any of the other music repositories online, you're effectively renting or licensing the music, not buying it. They control what you can do with it, and what they're willing to let you do is far less than what we used to be able to do in the bad old days of turntables and cassette decks. Nor are the media companies stopping at music: they're trying to export the same rights-management ideas to the realms of movies and books.
If this keeps up, sometime about 50 years from now, there will be one--and only one--media conglomerate. It will produce, and control, every kind of intellectual property--books, scholarly journals, online databases, music, art, theater, radio, film, television, and any other(s) not yet invented. It will charge users an inordinate fee for access to its materials, which users will gladly pay, lest they be condemned to a colorless life devoid of any means of stimulating the mind. I suspect that, should this unhappy state of affairs come to pass, the profession of "booklegger," first described by Robert Heinlein in, I believe, Between Planets in 1951, will move from fantasy into reality.