IP-Phone

Instapundit reports:

DOES APPLE REALLY WANT TO CRIPPLE YOUR IPHONE? “The leading computer company plans to build a system that will sense when people are trying to video live events — and turn off their cameras.”

Sounds like totalitarian governments would love this. . . .

UPDATE: Reader James Eric Johnson emails:

For a company that built a reputation on the back of its “1984: Big Brother” ad, this type of thing is perplexing. Apple has no conceivable duty to police the use of its products in this fashion. In fact, by doing so, Apple may be assuming a duty to act as a big brother. At the very least, it is enabling Big Brother.

And this coming from a recent Apple convert who would dread the idea of going back to PCs for my personal computing functions (primarily Adobe CS and programming). I’m not at all anti-Apple; I’ll defend their products, but not their worldview.

Indeed. Perhaps this story will turn out to be incorrect.

Well, it’s like this.  Whether it is correct, or a complete fabrication, or a test run, Apple is not necessarily looking to become a vassal of the Evil Empire.  Not, at least, the real Axis of Evil, Evil Empire.

Rather, it’s an IP thing.  Not the Internet Protocal, which is what you’d think an iPhone is about, but, of course, intellectual property.

Apple has complex and highly lucrative relationships built on and in many cases solely concerning intellectual property.  It’s fairly IP-nutty.  Apple’s technology, and the highly proprietary nature of its historically non-open-source business model, is highly dependant on IP enforcement.  To a fault — even if not always consistently.

The App Store licenses IP.  And the app developers –well, they have some kind of weird relationship with Apple regarding their work that is, mainly, better for Apple than for the developers.

There’s lots of IP in “APPLE.”  You could even call IP the seed of Apple’s growth.

But one thing Apple doesn’t want any aggravation about is secondary liability — no, not for trademark, though you can read all about that here, of course — but for copyright.  The right to public performance is one of the central rights protected by copyright.  And iPhones are the most likely gadget in the world to be used to unlawfully record copyright-protected works on screens, stages and elsewhere.

And when you can’t sue the person who did the recording, or if that person is essentially judgment proof — who ya gonna sue?  The guy who made the widget (or the server, or the credit card company) that made the infringement possible.

Apple needs to be the next Betamax like a hole in the head.  Yes, the “Betamax” won the case in which Universal sued Sony for enabling copyright infringement, but ultimately VHS was preferred by the market.  Litigation did not kill the Betamax.  But while the iPhone is already a proven winner, that will make it an even juicier target for the frustrated owners of copyrights.  Moreover, Apple’s relationship with IP owners doesn’t need that sort of strain.  Think how nicely they’ve learned to play lately, after all.

That’s not exactly the same as directly abetting the Evil Empire.  Well… not quite.

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Author:Ron Coleman

I write this blog.

48 Responses to “IP-Phone”

  1. June 16, 2011 at 3:34 pm #

    In 150 years of photography, have manufacturers of cameras ever been held liable for things that users of the devices photographed?

  2. June 16, 2011 at 4:29 pm #

    I don’t imagine they have.

    Do you, Dan, imagine that that is the end of the inquiry?

  3. Reid M.
    June 17, 2011 at 9:59 am #

    I’ve got to hope this one is fiction, particularly when there are numerous big-stage performers who encourage, or at least have no qualms about, fans recording shows. I remember taking digital recording equipment into a Dave Matthews Band show many years ago and hooking up to a boom mic on a 10 foot pole that another guy had brought. DMB even used to set up a tent or special area where fans who wanted to record could do so.

    Of course, as video (and presumably audio) capabilities in small devices keeps getting better and better, maybe Apple feels the need to be proactive about building anti-infringement technology into their devices, even if the protocol for enabling that technology isn’t yet developed.

    While I’m no software engineer, I find that software that senses video from live events to be way beyond the bounds of what Apple might be legally allowed to do (of course, you can always buy a different device). Not only does this raise fair use issues, but it brings up a whole host of First Amendment issues (which will get a lot more people riled up than copyright). Obviously, streaming from live events can be largely a non-infringing use (Betamax was a winner, after all). I can’t fathom how software could determine the difference between situations where performers have expressly granted the right for content to be streamed live to ones where they had not.

    I suppose I could imagine some sort of central database, managed by Apple, where performers can provide showtimes and locations, and Apple (in conjunction with service providers) could presumably limit streaming from devices connected to the towers nearby. Presumably, one could work around this through tethering or other WiFi connections. This type of thing could encourage more jailbreaking of devices, which is currently not a copyright violation, but I’m sure Apple is working very, very hard on getting its way on that issue.

    • June 18, 2011 at 11:42 pm #

      Good points. It is hard to see how such a capability could — even if amenable to rationalization (and I was trotting out a rationalization, not a justification) — work at the appropriate level of accuracy.

  4. fustian
    June 18, 2011 at 1:26 pm #

    Be aware that Apple patents whole bucket loads of stuff they have no intention of building.

    And a political movement that can’t figure out how to get around such low level technologies doesn’t deserve to succeed anyway.

    • June 18, 2011 at 11:44 pm #

      That’s a little harsh, I think! Again, though, going back to Reid’s point, it is hard to fathom how this alleged capability would really work with any degree of usefulness.

  5. Person of Choler
    June 18, 2011 at 1:29 pm #

    If this system is real, expect every police force and federal agency to acquire it to prevent people from recording the occasional beating or shooting of an innocent citizen.

    Likewise, every politician who doesn’t want his or her lapses into idiocy or embarrassing candor will have one on the podium at every speech.

    About once a week I read something that makes me glad I bought an Android.

    • June 18, 2011 at 11:45 pm #

      Good points, and, I am sure, part of the reason Glenn Reynolds is interested in this story. The intersection of police and pictures is a troubling new development, with more than one aspect to it.

  6. Challeron
    June 18, 2011 at 1:36 pm #

    Actually, for Apple to do this makes perfect sense; indeed, they have the computing and storage resources to do as Reid suggests, and let bands who want their fans to “bootleg” shows do just that, on an individual basis (iCloud, perhaps) — and if only Apple can protect performers’s copyrights, how far might that go toward insuring that the Big Labels prefer Apple as their online distributor, and restrict Android products that can’t do the same?

    And I would not in any way consider this “evil” or “draconian” or any of the other inappropriate terms that freeloaders like to use when someone actually refuses to “gimme, gimme, gimme” to them just because they feel “entitled”: Last time I actually looked, information did not actually WANT to be free….

    • June 18, 2011 at 11:49 pm #

      I’ve long argued that information is not, in fact, all that interested in freedom, or even other stuff that sentient beings want, such as chocolate or more RAM.

  7. ThomasD
    June 18, 2011 at 1:40 pm #

    ” iPhones are the most likely gadget in the world to be used to unlawfully record copyright-protected works on screens, stages and elsewhere.”

    That is one hell of an assertion given the plethora of image and sound recording devices available today. One that really needs some backing up in order to retain credibility.

    • June 18, 2011 at 11:50 pm #

      I could be wrong, Thomas.

      What one device do you think is more likely to be used for that purpose than an iPhone?

  8. Jack Amok
    June 18, 2011 at 1:46 pm #

    Bah. Yet another example of a company flirting with the idea of crippling the products it sells in order to cut itself some side deals. That’s not okay, regardless of the justification they try to use.

    My iPhone gets traded in for something else when the current contract is up.

    • June 18, 2011 at 11:51 pm #

      Well, just don’t be too starry-eyed about the “something else” you’re moving into!

  9. John
    June 18, 2011 at 1:51 pm #

    OK, but what happens to Apple’s liability if this technology is easily circumvented by creative users? Maybe they put a piece of metallic tape over the IR emitter. Maybe they hold up a decoy iPhone of a friend (that isn’t used to record, but to trick any location-aware aspect) adjacent to the recording iPhone. Maybe they do something different with a jailbroken iphone. Apple could acquire liability for the failure of the disable-iphone-recording technology just as surely as they could acquire liability for iphone-recording technology misuse. Once Apple attempts to stop misuse, they better succeed, or the lawyers will get them.

    So, ultimately, I don’t see how this lessens Apple’s legal worries.

    • June 18, 2011 at 11:52 pm #

      I don’t think there is any chance at all that they could actually be held liable — but they (a) may not want to go through finding out, and (b) have lots of other complex IP and commercial relationships that this may help them out with. And it is mostly (b) that probably motivates Apple if, in fact, there is any truth to this.

  10. Mannie
    June 18, 2011 at 1:59 pm #

    Another reason not to buy an iPhone.

  11. Ken Royall
    June 18, 2011 at 2:01 pm #

    Apple is a liberal company. Liberals are all for big government interventions into just about every human activity. Why not give their pals a tool to use? The cult of Apple users is immune to being persuaded that their fearless leader Steve would ever do anything bad. They have been ripping people off for years with their overpriced, overrated toys and people love them for it.

    • June 18, 2011 at 3:02 pm #

      Apple is a company that, above all, is about profit. While they certainly employ and are run to a degree by leftists, ideologies do not trump greenbacks, at least in the manner implied. (Apple’s design and quality ideologies certainly do affect profit and product, but that’s another discussion.)

      Apple tends to respond quite directly to customer input and demand, probably more so than any other technology company of its size. IF this sort of thing is implemented, and IF people raise hell over it, expect it to go away.

      The rest of your “overpriced, overrated” sour-grapes tirade is the same tired disparagement often tossed about by people who have not used an Apple product in a decade.

    • June 18, 2011 at 11:54 pm #

      I think Mr. Lion is correct here about Apple’s goals. “Even” liberal firms, Ken, are motivated primarily by the green.

  12. hiscross
    June 18, 2011 at 2:11 pm #

    This article was written by the same type of people who claimed Rearden Steel was no good. Apple is the threat to the status technology quo. This nonsense will become more and more until Steve tells them to stick it, or better yet, shut Apple down and leave the world to the looters who can’t build a good product. Yes, I use Apple products as well as HP, DELL, Microsoft, RIM, IBM and Google. I know who builds a great product and who is an also ran.

    • June 18, 2011 at 3:11 pm #

      Yes, we all know about the built-in DRM in Rearden Metal that caused it to refuse to be assembled into structures that Mr. Rearden disapproved of. (Well, maybe Rand would have approved of such a thing, after all, since another of her heroes blew up a building that wasn’t built correctly by his specifications.)

      • hiscross
        June 18, 2011 at 5:30 pm #

        Good design is good design. Apple, like Roark and Rearden (Rand) trademark is great design and great human interface. Trouble is most people accept less than that and want to believe that is OK. Look around, has compromise and bad design ever helped anyone? Hint: Look who is running the USA

      • June 18, 2011 at 11:56 pm #

        Thanks, Dan, for helping me understand what kind of people hiscross meant me to understand I’m the type of!

  13. Sleazey
    June 18, 2011 at 3:01 pm #

    Person of Choler:
    You’ve hit the nail on the head. It’ll be not just the police, but every government office, meeting room, office, DMV, welfare office, police car, police officer, and journalist will carry portable versions of these. Also every politician giving a speech to a special interest group, meeting with constituents, holding hearings,etc.

    Journos

  14. JR
    June 18, 2011 at 3:02 pm #

    I don’t know a great deal about the technology behind this, but it seems to rely upon the use of infrared transmitters at the venue, which send signals instructing the iPhone to disable its camera. If the phone’s infrared port is blocked, and if the camera has an infrared filter in front of the lens, and if the phone is put into “Airplane Mode”, wouldn’t this be sufficient to defeat the technology?

    • June 18, 2011 at 11:56 pm #

      Definitely. Or absolutely not.

  15. Sleazey
    June 18, 2011 at 3:04 pm #

    Continuing,

    Journalists will love these. They’ll be able to reinvigorate their former monopoly on interview and news worthy events.

  16. Fred
    June 18, 2011 at 3:07 pm #

    The article is unclear, but seems to describe some IR device on stage which the performers could use to detect and control the iPhones in the audience.

    Will it detect and control all the Android and WP7 phones, and Canons and Flipcams etc. too?

    Will Apple assume liability for all the other manufacturers compliance, or is this simply a fascist-licensing opportunity against Apple customers?

    If all phones and video cams can be remotely controlled by any jackass claiming some government or corporate authority, how soon will it be before every cop and security guard in the country has one of these mounted on his dashboard and/or his helmet?

    On the other hand, if the big red “anti-filming” button was displayed prominently next to the locker-room door or bathroom stall, I might tap on it myself before I pulled my skivvies down.

    • June 18, 2011 at 11:58 pm #

      I am not sure I understand why Apple would assume “liability” (again, I do not posit that there would be any liability anyway) for other companies’ products, Fred.

  17. Buck
    June 18, 2011 at 3:20 pm #

    Maybe Apple is planning to sell the technology to do this to the concert promoters?

    maybe, GM could put in technology that doesn’t allow me to speed in my car? They have a very delicate relationship with the government, and therefore law enforcement. Maybe my car should report me if I don’t buckle up? What else am I not allowed to do, and my technology should be policing?

    • June 18, 2011 at 11:58 pm #

      Remember the cars that wouldn’t start if you didn’t put on your seatbelt?

  18. 5ftflirt
    June 18, 2011 at 5:23 pm #

    One more reason to jailbreak your iPhone.

    But I bet as this rumor spreads it will cut into iPhone sales and Apple will have to back off.

    • June 18, 2011 at 11:59 pm #

      Agreed except for the part about “it will cut into iPhone sales.”

  19. 5ftflirt
    June 18, 2011 at 5:24 pm #

    “…maybe, GM could put in technology that doesn’t allow me to speed in my car? They have a very delicate relationship with the government, and therefore law enforcement. Maybe my car should report me if I don’t buckle up?…”

    Don;t laugh. All those are being considered. Plus a non-removable device which broadcasts to law enforcement authorities where your car is at all times.

    • June 19, 2011 at 12:00 am #

      I already refer to my cell phone as the Global Husband Positioning System.

  20. tim maguire
    June 18, 2011 at 5:57 pm #

    And if I wish to legally record my friends and I at some arena where there is a public performance? Oh right, I’m not an iphone user so I’ll be able to record it just fine.

    • June 19, 2011 at 12:01 am #

      That goes to the point about precision. I suppose, however, that if the posited system is premised on a sort of iPhone death ray that an Official Intellectual Property Protected (TM) performance has beamed at users, then, yes, only you and I on our non-Apple smart phones will be left to record our friends.

  21. nbindo
    June 18, 2011 at 6:55 pm #

    I have a better solution. Have security people confiscate the phone and escort out anyone holding up a camera or camera phone at a paid performance, as is already their right to do. Simple and effective. Once they announce that is what they are going to do, and they actually start doing this, people will stop recording pretty quick.

    Of course, artists who realize the good publicity they get from YouTube concert videos will think twice about this.

  22. JIMV
    June 18, 2011 at 8:10 pm #

    I see this as an ideal tool for despots. Imagine how the murders in Syria and Libya would play if the victims could not video the events. That is the door Apple is opening….protecting greed at the expense of freedom when the silly ‘freedom’ idea is a real life and death issue in the real world is disgusting.

    Take it a step further. The police are currently at war in this country with folk who record them and catch excesses on occasion. Imagine a device on a patrol car that could kill all the video near the car, or a city regulatory body demanding such capabilities in their towns.

    This is a VERY bad idea and should be resisted by all folk who value freedom.

    • hiscross
      June 18, 2011 at 9:13 pm #

      “That is the door Apple is opening….protecting greed at the expense of freedom when the silly ‘freedom’ idea is a real life and death issue in the real world is disgusting.”

      Of course you have proof that Apple protecting greed at the expense of what you think is freedom. So far no once has proved that Apple has done any of things the pundits and liberals on the internet claim to be true, but who is asking for facts when the new truth can be made up.

      • JIMV
        June 18, 2011 at 10:09 pm #

        If the ability to remotely kill the phone is installed, then despots WILL use it and Apple cannot pretend ignorance of the consequence.

        • hiscross
          June 19, 2011 at 8:54 am #

          Apple hasn’t developed a central admin utility to manage iPhones remotely. Now RIM has such a utility. This is one area that hurts the iPhone in government and corporate environments. BTW, Rim, Google (Andriod) and Apple have the capability to wipe a phone clean, but that has to be managed by the corporate or owners PC (mac). Apple has no way of doing this. This whole article and the crap behind it is made up and silly, if not stupid. Now here is one for all those who worry about privacy, Google saves every page you ever visited if you use any of their products. They sell that data to others. Chew on that.

  23. Nora
    June 19, 2011 at 4:31 am #

    IP MA > People who want to record at the event will find a way to do it. I-phone is certainly not the only device that can be used. Other smart phones can do it too. So the only reason for Apple to go the way they are going is more of the nod to the oppresive regimes of the world, which, BTW, control large majority of the world population, to get the exclusive share of the market in such places. Since in these countries the authorities to large digree dictate and control what goes into their countries, and they absolutely have the interest in controlling these devices, as the recent events in the ME shown. There is no any other reason that makes sense otherwise, considering the choice and availability of technologies with video recording capabilities in the very small part of the world that is still free.

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