A Patent to Make Your Phone Less Useful

We've all been there. You are at a live event, and the person behind you can't seem to resist the urge to capture a shaky video or a grainy picture destined for the social media abyss. It annoys everyone around them, and it disturbs the performer. At the very least, people, turn off the flash. 

Performers of all stripes have started to push back against the ubiquity of cell phone cameras. Some because they don't want material to leak online, others out of concern for the audience, and others because it distracts from the connection live performance can facilitate. Artists from Kate Bush to Adele have demanded fans stop recording their concerts. Benedict Cumberbatch has pleaded with them to watch Hamlet on the stage not on the 5 inch screen in front of their faces. Prince once filed a short-lived lawsuit against fans who linked to live recordings. Dave Chappelle and Alicia Keys are using locking pouches to help audience members overcome the temptation to pull out their phones. And Glenn Danzig will just put you in a headlock.

In response to this problem, Apple has patented infrared technology that, among other things, could disable recordings at concerts and other live events. Apple has announced no immediate plans to incorporate this "feature" in the iPhone. And despite the scourge of amateur concert videographers, we don't think it should. Dictating how we, as owners, use our devices, particularly when that involves disabling existing functionality at the request of a third party, erodes our property rights in the devices we buy.

Phone cameras, like any technology, can be used in socially helpful and harmful ways. But technology itself isn't very good at telling the difference between when we are behaving like good citizens and when we are being obnoxious. Your phone can't tell if Taylor Swift is disabling concert footage or the local police are preventing evidence of their abuse, for example. So to the extent we want some sort of regulation to discourage unauthorized filming, whether through law or social norms, we shouldn't bake those preferences into our devices.