|This story was written by Keith Dawson for the Industry Standard's Posts feature. It is archived here for informational purposes only because The Standard's site is no more. This material is Copyright 1999-2001 by Standard Media.|
Play That Funky Source Code, Geek Boy
Jonathan Richman, Talking Heads, Weezer: all giants in the field of nerd rock. But none of them can top Joe Wecker. Two weekends ago, 1,500 people downloaded a 6MB file - which takes about an hour over a slow connection - to hear Wecker strum his guitar and sing source code.
In fact, it was illegal source code, the recipe to a program that lets Linux users copy movies from DVDs onto their hard drives. Wecker's "song" is a protest against a court's decision last month to block online distribution of the code, called DeCSS, by hacker magazine 2600. In blocking the code, a federal judge dismissed the defense's argument that source code is speech protected by the First Amendment and cited 1998's Digital Millennium Copyright Act.
But the genie's out of the bottle. The code is available on thousands of other sites, and, in what's become a mischievous hacker tradition, printed on T-shirts. Computer scientist and defense witness Dave Touretzky has posted to his own site the contested source code in different forms: as English text, as a visual puzzle and as spoken word.
Enter Joe Wecker, hacker and member of the Salt Lake City band Don't Eat Pete. He picked up his guitar and sang Touretzky's English version of the program, salting it with a bluesy chorus: "DMCA steps on me."
Whether the song is illegal is open to interpretation. Touretzky figures that since the judge blocked only the versions of the descrambler that a machine can read, then all other forms of it are copacetic. The Supreme Court may ultimately have the final say. Until further notice, though, Touretzky will feature Wecker's song in his multimedia gallery. - Keith Dawson