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Shut That Camera Off: Apple Targets Concert Filming

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Hello once again and welcome back. This isn’t nearly late as the last piece simply because I grew a brain from then to now. What this does have in common with last week is that we have another sequel here.

Some time back came word that lawmakers were looking to make unauthorized online streaming a felony. This week it was announced that Apple is not only all for that idea, apparently, but it is looking to make sharing concert footage that much harder.

Apple’s filed a patent backing December 2009 for technology that would allow communication with the smartphone through the camera via coded infrared lighting equipped in other sources. For example, pointing your iPhone at a movie poster outside the theater could result in your phone immediately going to the IMDB page or the official website for the movie. Applications like that are where this technology could benefit the user.

Then there’s the flip side. That same Apple software would also allow the company to disable any iPhone camera that attempts to take pictures or record a live concert. Governments could be keen on this idea, because with the right transmitters installed in the right buildings, still photos or video would be immediately shut off within specific range of the right government buildings. As far as concerts, promoters and venue owners could install the same technology to simply shut down the camera once it starts recording a performer on stage.

Much of the focus of this issue has been on that particular application, and for justifiable reason. As you can see, Apple has been sitting on the patent for a year and a half, but just now announced work on it (at the same time it has unveiled the iCloud service). Like Amazon, Apple has launched a service for users to upload music to and stream music from their service. In being able to provide the iCloud, Apple had to sign several licensing agreements with the major record labels. Between that and being in the position of power when it comes to the iTunes store (now the single biggest marketplace to buy music), Apple apparently felt it owed the labels some sort of consolation, and this software seems to be it.

Between that and the emergence of Senate Bill S. 978, the art of taking portions of a show and posting them online are in more jeopardy than ever. It’s certainly a move that has big money corporate lobbying written all over it on both fronts. It’s a foregone conclusion that Apple is in bed with the labels in providing this software, and the Senate bill in conjunction with that seems to sound the death knell for 21st century bootlegging.

That idea was discussed before, along with the idea that lawsuits could run amok anew, but here’s another angle to look at. What about the performers who aren’t signed to a major label? As has been discussed before, there are more and more artists taking the “DIY” approach that are not only not signed to a major label, but have no desire to be. Even removing the conscious choice of not signing with a major from the equation, the vast majority of music acts are unsigned whether they want to be or are trying to be. Why should they be punished for this sort of thing?

No, seriously. What happens when one of these artists tries to play these venues? Let’s say, because they’re on a low budget, one of their means or promotion is having someone record their performance and post it to YouTube with the artist’s permission in an attempt to get their name out there? They’re now blocked from trying to ply their trade because these bigger companies are controlling the freedom that was supposedly granted to them by these devices to do that.

As far as controlling the spread and flow of communication, there are a couple groups already on the job. The Save The Internet coalition has already published an open letter to Steve Jobs about how this application restricts free use. Free Press is on the job as well. Many people are upset at the far-reaching implications of Apple’s ability to restrict what people shoot, record, and send. It’s been said that information is the greatest commodity, and Apple’s ability to control that with the help of concert venues and even governments is a little scary.

It is also important to keep in mind that this has not been implemented in to any of Apple’s devices as of yet. It is merely in the patent stages, and not all of Apple’s patents have come to fruition. This may fall by the wayside, which would be a relief for those looking to show others what a great time a live concert can be and to help promote that art, no matter how big or small the artist would be. Otherwise, despite the fact that it’s 2011, we could be moving closer to 1984.

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About Michael Melchor

Michael Melchor has covered pop culture in all its forms for several publications and websites, including BackStage Pass magazine, 411Mania.com, and Examiner.com.