The Essence of Piracy
Hostile takeover without the paperwork
The plan was hatched out of boredom, pure and simple, and we pondered the legal ramifications warily. Two conspirators and I crouched under the grandstands. A few feet above, 1,000 spectators huddled, eyeing the pool where, years earlier, the 1960 U.S. Olympic Trials had been conducted. Since those days, the pool had fallen on harsh times. Leaks caused fresh water to be required at such a rate that the temperature never rose above 58 degrees.
“They could throw us out of the meet,” offered John, who was destined to become one of the top trauma surgeons in the state after a stint at Villanova.
“Maybe there’s some sort of misdemeanor they could hit us with,” responded Kevin, who would gain fame as a leading muscle expert, and a full professor of physiology at UGA.
“Nah,” I countered, and unless you’ve been living in a cave, you probably are aware that I once dominated the Kalamazoo County Litter Pickup Patrol, “rap on the knuckles, that’s all…”
Before I finished the sentence, John burst out from between the stands like fire ants had invaded his Speedo. The target was the 10-meter diving platform, roped off with ominous warnings posted against trespassing onto the towers. In the waning light of day, just as the finals were starting in a masochistic distance freestyle event, he scooted to the base of the tower unnoticed.
Kevin sprinted next, but now the crowd spotted the commotion, and the spooked pool staff sprang into action. They were well over 50 meters away, so I circled back behind the stands to approach from a blind area. By the time I got to the base, John had made it to the 10-meter platform, walked up to the edge, and threw himself into the pool without grace, resembling a statue pushed off a ledge. Now, the incensed guards broke into a jog, but were limited by the treacherous wet deck. They wore giant urine-colored raincoats with “Brennan Pools” emblazoned on the back, and grimaced with rage as they tried to reach the tower before Kevin lunged hastily off the five-meter platform.
As the apoplectic guards closed in on my friends who darted under the stands like flaming rats, the distraction gave me brief cover. I crawled to the top of the tower stairs, and lay flat on my belly, listening to the roaring crowd; they were not cheering for swimmers enduring the brutality of the 1500-meter free, but whipped to a charged frenzy in support of the sideshow on the diving platforms.
I counted to 10, then stood up. Instantly, the throngs in the stands stood as one and pointed at me. A thunderous chant began: “Jump, jump, jump.” They were mad for action, long having lost interest in the slog of a race. Two guards were stationed at one end of the diving well. They pointed and bellowed through bullhorns for all to hear: “Hey YOU! Don’t JUMP!”
Well, I tend to take people literally, and now seemed like a time to do so. Instead of jumping, I arched up high into the air into a picturesque full layout, AKA Swan Dive, and sailed into the dark pool. BOOM. The water hitting my head felt like a two-by-four wielded by a Hell’s Angel in a bar fight. I went deep into the well, and had to kick like a dolphin in a tuna net to burst to the surface. When I did, I instantly assessed the guard’s deployment, and sprinted at top speed for the opposite end. No way, I figured, would they dive in after me. So, I exploited their laziness and shot out of the pool like Shamu grasping for a Wahoo.
Perfect! They each sprinted around the diving well in opposite directions to cut me off, but I hit a small gap in the grandstands before they could get to me. They snapped at my wet ankles but had no chance. With their huge coats, the option for them to follow me didn’t exist.
Ah, but they evidently had more hidden staff on duty behind the grandstands, and they nabbed me. I could see them perp-walking my two friends 30 feet ahead of me. As we were trotted in front of the grandstands, people clapped and whistled. I felt like a politician who was just busted for handcuffing his wrist to the gate of a nuke plant.
Our omnipresent coach, Tom, had witnessed the theater, and intercepted the guards just as they shoved us into the office where the pool director, a twin of the late Telly Savalas, chomped a cigar. He was crimson in the face, and saliva flecked the corners of his mouth.
But before he could speak, Tom cut him off. Turning to us, his face was filled with hate. “You three have humiliated me for the last time. I’m disgusted. You are off the team for the rest of the summer, but not before you’re due at the pool tomorrow morning for a 10,000 meter workout you’ll never forget.”
He turned to the pool director, who was astonished by Tom’s vile and sadistic threat. “I’ll take care of them, believe me, they’ll regret the day they met me. I’m sorry for the trouble.”
He looked at us, shook his head, and we slumped into a whimper, tears welling up. The pool director’s eyes burned the backs of our head like lasers as we slunk out of the office like beaten dogs.
Fifty feet from the office, heads still down, I started snickering. Then John, then Kevin and Tom burst at the seams.
“Did you see the vein in that guy’s head?” Tom said, “I thought he was going to leak blood from his eyes!” He croaked, trying to contain his laughing fit.
“I especially liked the part about kicking us off the team for the rest of the summer, seeing as how this is the last meet.” I was now in unbridled hysterics, unable to stand. As soon as we climbed the stands back to the team, answering high fives and cheers, we collapsed into deadly, hacking laugh convulsions.
Guessing at legal ramifications is a fool’s game. Lawyers and lawsuits are everywhere. One such gambler was Norwegian Jon Johansen who, at 15, drummed up the program DeCSS that neutered the anti-copy encryption on DVDs. Tried and acquitted twice, he now works in Silicon Valley. I’m in his camp. Although piracy of movies in China is costing the entertainment industry billions, what about the consumer end of the spectrum? If your DVD-based game or movie gets scratched, it can be an unbelievably tedious exercise in bureaucracy to get them replaced.
I had a PlayStation 2 disk that became damaged, and the obstacle course I had to run around made FEMA look like the Kilgore Rangerettes. They truly wanted to make it as frustratingly paralyzing as possible, hoping that others would follow my lead, and hang up in disgust and rage. But we should have the right to protect our investment. At an average of $20 for movie DVDs, and $50 for game DVDs, one false move and your investment sublimates like a block of dry ice.
The CD encryption scheme has long since failed. Numerous music and game programs on CD have been protected with one of about a half dozen encryption schemes that were broken as soon as they were developed. Applications that are freely available on the Web, such as Alcohol 120%, Blindwrite and ClonyXXL, are among the tools to diagnose and crack the encryption scheme. Okay, I support your right to copy a music CD for safekeeping, but I have a few friends in the recording industry, and I side with them when it comes to duplicating copies for something other than personal archival, and that includes passing music to your pals.
But now we have Sony and Toshiba locked in a death match over the future of high-capacity data and entertainment storage. Sony’s Blu Ray seems to be crushing the life out of the high-definition HD DVD challenge pitched by Toshiba. Realize that each of these technologies is capable of storing many HD movies at once and, translated to laboratory data, that equates to an avalanche of information. And you’d better believe the entertainment industry is driving to the hoop in this game. Part and parcel of the design of Blu Ray devices is strict protection of intellectual property. If you don’t think the entertainment industry wields a big stick, look at the digital video recorder (DVR) wars going on. The TV folks know that DVR users love to skip commercials. This problem was a mosquito on the rump of a rhinoceros a few years ago, but with millions of DVRs out there, the marketing powers are concerned that the billions spent on the production of commercials are being zapped into the ether with the flick of a thumb. The radius and ulnas of the manufacturers were contorted into a ligament-snapping position until the engineers removed the commercial skip feature. But Round 2 has the Internet and bookstores mounting challenges. To wit, Andy Rathbone’s TiVo for Dummies will have you hacking the internals in your TiVo and it’s bye bye Viagra ads.
The war isn’t over, and the consumers may be winning the battle, legally and less-than-legally, but guessing where the dust will clear in the courts requires advanced psychic powers.
I’m reminded of an old Steve Martin joke that goes something like this: “I know how you can commit murder and get away with it. When you are up in front of the judge, just use two little words that people have ignored, ‘I forgot.’ So when you are asked to plea, you say, ‘I forgot murder was illegal.'”
Randy Hice is the president of the Laboratory Expertise Center. He can be reached at editor@ScientificComputing.com.