Some Shall Pass

“Wait. Back that up. What did he just say?”

It’s the end of the week and I’ve finally gotten around to watching the 2008 Macworld keynote, dutiful geek that I am. Jim Gianopoulos just whipped a Family Guy DVD out from under his jacket and tossed off that 20th Century Fox will be including pre-ripped file copies on their DVDs, transferable to your iTunes library with a click.

(Before you jump down my throat about this hardly being new information, yes, I read all the rumors and saw the leaked screenshots weeks ago just like everyone else. But when it comes to Apple rumors—as with all retail tech rumors—I adopt a decidedly won’t-believe-it-until-I-can-buy-it attitude.)

Corporate sanctioned, studio facilitated Fair Use? These kids might finally be getting it.

Okay, okay. So it ain’t perfect. It’s still wrapped in DRM. It only works within the iTunes/iPod universe. (These choices really boil down to issues of majority user behavior and coopetition, but there’s enough there for a whole other lengthy conversation. And no, this isn’t technically the first time. But the use case is so radically different it might as well be.)

Any way you slice it though this is a walking, talking Fair Use—the red-headed stepchild of the media world—delivered by none other than an über-corporation. In recent years if leviathans like this have deigned to cast their glance upon Fair Use it’s typically been to scream, “A witch! Burn her, burn her!” (Pun intended.)

That a major studio is publicly (albeit implicitly) admitting Fair Uses even exist is pretty singular in recent media history, let alone the notion that they’re going to hand one over to Jane Q. Customer at no extra charge.

This is what’s known as establishing a precedent. Quietly, tentatively, but unmistakably.

Please, sir, may we have some more?