CES HP this week took the unusual move of using a consumer electronics conference as the venue for an unprecedented attack on consumers and their ability to enjoy American technology and culture.
HP's CEO Carly Fiorina filled her keynote speech at CES with media piracy rhetoric, saying that consumers are undermining the economy and the morals of this nation by exchanging music. With this platform established, Fiorina went on to say HP will be the media industry's first rate lackey and do all it can to equip files with DRM (digital rights management) controls. The move by a technology company like HP to so wholly support a dying, old world empire shows how fragile the idea of an open PC has become.
"Just because we can steal music doesn't mean we should," Fiorina said. "It is illegal. It is wrong, and there are things we can do as a technology company to help.
"Starting this year, we'll strive to build every one of our consumer devices to respect digital rights."
Fiorina went on to say the company is working to have the industry's best DRM technology whether developed in-house or purchased through partners. HP has a rich heritage of research and product development into portable computer devices - CoolTown, and from Digital, the StrongARM processor and iPaq. So it ignored it all, and chose to rebadge Apple's iPod.
It's not unreasonable for companies in all relevant industries to try and make sure artists are rewarded for their creative efforts. But as the playing field now stands with current DRM technology, consumers are giving up freedoms as to how they can play and share their content. And now technology leaders such as HP are going out of their way to "help" the media industry instead of helping their own customers.
Sharing is a sham
HP made this position quite clear by inviting Jimmy Iovine, the chairman of Universal's Interscope music label, on stage to push their shared agenda. Iovine, a scrawny, middle-aged man dressed like a teenager, attacked the CES crowd for being an immoral collective of music industry killers.
"(Piracy) is hurting kids because kids are learning a disrespect for the basic relationship between creativity and ownership. It's hurting parents because they are in on the sham."
Iovine delivered this message in a stilted fashion, as he read the teleprompter with the skill of a backwoods newsman. At no time in his speech, however, did Iovine remind the audience of the record labels' long history of price-fixing their products, costing consumers hundreds of millions, according to the US government. As he worked to tell us how to raise our children, one would have hoped Iovine could bring this checkered past up, if only to provide more light on the sham.
Iovine went on to talk about a recent heart-to-heart conversation about piracy he had with rapper 50 Cent. The two were discussing a particular case in which a college student made money by selling pirated songs.
"50 Cent said "let me know who this kid is because I am going to take his lunch and take away his car,'" Iovine said.
Iovine could not have picked a better example, as 50 Cent is one of the artists who has suffered most from file-trading. Last year, his album Get Rich or Die Tryin was purchased 6.5 million times, making it the top-selling album of the year. Our heart goes out to 50 Cent.
"Why aren't politicians jumping up and down at this," asked Iovine.
It so happens politicians are keeping a close eye on the record labels' actions. They, along with the courts, are calling for the music industry to sue its customers in a more reasonable fashion.
"This may sound personal," Iovine said. "It is personal."
How personal is it? Well, Iovine called in some favors to have Sheryl Crow, Bono's lapdog The Edge and Dr. Dre appear with Fiorina on stage to express their outrage at file-trading. Only the singers didn't say anything. They simply stood on the CES stage for five minutes and then left. It was a powerful showing.
While Iovine would have you believe he has assessed the market with objectivity, other media moguls have a different take on piracy.
"Right now the record (companies are) trying to figure out how they are going to keep themselves in cocaine and limousines and starlets and whatever else those guys do for a living," said Los Angeles radio giant Phil Hendrie during a recent broadcast. "The recording business has, as they begin to finally fall apart, as they begin to deteriorate, as their business continues to go south, show(n) themselves for the slobs that they are."
The sum total of all this is that the issue of media piracy is still up for debate, but companies such as HP are trying to decide the matter for you and are doing so with major consequences.
Fiorina talked at length about technology finally living up to its promise and opening new ways for consumers to enjoy a world rich in culture. At the same time, however, she vowed to out do all technology companies in the restrictions HP will place on those consumers sharing their culture. The company whose slogan is "Invent" is doing all it can to stifle innovation, new business models and new markets.
To emphasize this point, we take you back to 2001 when Hale Landis warned of the death of the open PC.
"The old line hard disk vendors can not survive without bending to the desires of the entertainment industry." Landis wrote. "Basically your "general purpose personal computer", aka "home computer", is history."
"So have fun fighting the battle against CPRM and alike but please do not be surprised when you fail, after all the war has been lost, long live the new world order: proprietary devices, proprietary interfaces, copy protection, limited functionality, and prepare you credit card accounts for all those monthly rental and service charges you will be paying for every "computer controller consumer electronics device" you use." ®