Camera not Camera
© Corbert Report
Here's a riddle for you: When is a camera not a camera?

It may not sound as important as The Riddle of the Sphinx, but let me assure you it speaks to the very nature of the reality we live in. And it has a simple answer: When is a camera not a camera? When the EU says it isn't.

That's right. Back in 2007, "EU trade experts decided [. . .] that to be classified as a digital camera, equipment must not be able to record at least 30 minutes of a single sequence of video in a quality of 800 x 600 pixels or higher at 23 frames per second or higher."

Yes, "EU trade experts." That's literally how Rothschild Reuters described them. As if there is such a thing as a "trade expert," let alone a level of expertise that would allow you to decide precisely how many minutes of continuous shooting transforms a recording device into a "digital camera." As a result of these vaunted trade experts' proclamation, any device capable of recording at least 30 minutes of continuous video at the above-mentioned resolution is slapped with a customs duty of 5-12% as soon as it enters the borders of the European Union.

But while this may seem like a trivial distinction, it has some very real consequences. The upshot of this "digital camera" duty is that DSLR cameras (almost all of them, no matter where you purchase them) will record precisely 29 minutes and 59 seconds of continuous video before promptly turning themselves off. (I notice it every time I'm recording one of my band's gigs, as this generally means our main camera stops dead just as we get into the heart of the set.)

Please note: This is completely and utterly arbitrary. There is no technical reason for this limitation whatsoever. There are limitations to the size of a single video file on the FAT32 file system that such cameras use to store the videos, but there's an easy workaround: The camera will just split the resulting video into multiple, seamlessly connected files. It makes no difference whatsoever to the final result.

But want to record 30 minutes and 1 second of something without having to physically restart the camera? Sorry, bub, the Eurocrat "trade experts" have decided that you'll have to pay a good deal extra for that privilege, and the manufacturers have responded by simply eliminating that option from their cameras . . . I mean, their "recording devices."

I invite you to pause a second and really think about what that means. Manufacturers are inserting completely arbitrary limits into their own hardware — limits that deliberately impair the function of that hardware — for no other reason than to conform to the arbitrary classifications of overbearing technocrats.

Now, if this were the one solitary example of meddling bureaucrats ruining everyone's fun, then perhaps we could have a good laugh about this silliness and go on with our day. Sadly, it is far from the only example of such idiocy.

Want to take a picture of the Eiffel Tower? Go right ahead! The Eiffel Tower was built in 1923, so due to France's 70 year copyright law, the iconic Parisian landmark entered the public domain in 1993. But wait, you want to take a picture of the Eiffel Tower at night? Stop right there, buster! That's a thought crime! The lights were only installed on the tower in 1985, and since they're a separately-copyrighted "artistic work" they won't be public domain until 2055. (I guess you could take a picture of the Eiffel Tower at night during a blackout. That would probably be legal.)

Want to bake some cinnamon treats within the geographical boundaries of the European Union? You better make sure that it contains less than 5 miligrams of coumarin (a compound commonly found in cinnamon) per kilogram. If it contains one miligram more, then you'll be imprisoned for your culinary crime. (Unless you're baking a kanelsnegle in Denmark, that is. After the EU's coumarin restrictions threatened Denmark's traditional Christmas treat, a bout of major national hysteria ensued. Luckily, the Danish bakers were spared the wrath of the Eurocrats because Denmark's government had the good sense to classify cinnamon rolls as a "traditional" food, which I guess makes the coumarin they contain magically OK.)

But let's not for a moment pretend that this bureaucratic insanity is limited to the EU. Sadly, power mad government officials meddling in every aspect of people's life is the rule, not the exception.

Want to free a humpback whale from your fishing gear in the US? You better call the appropriate officials (licensed marine mammal rescue workers, to be precise). If you take it upon yourself to free the whale you will be facing a fine of $100,000 and a year in jail.

And speaking of fish, don't even think about handling fish in "suspicious circumstances" in the UK.

Want a license to broadcast radio or television in Canada? You better make sure that precisely 40% of your content is "Canadian" (whatever that means). Otherwise, you can kiss your license goodbye!

And if you're driving a dirty car in Moscow you better hope that the officer who pulls you over doesn't deem it too dirty. If he does, it could mean an on-the-spot fine of 500 rubles.

Feel free to chime in with a stupid regulation from your neck of the woods. But I think you get the point.

The regulations and rules that circumscribe the minutiae of our life are not just a joke. Like in the case of the EU's definition of "digital camera," the whims of the bureaucrats can have a direct impact on the way companies manufacture their product, and what consumers are allowed to do with them.

Before people pooh-pooh this as "slippery slope" fearmongering, let's reflect on the fact that this dangerous precedent is now being used to push the idea that tech companies should be forced by law to include back doors in encrypted content for law enforcement officials to use whenever they want. In fact, Australia has already passed such a law, and the US Department of (in)Justice is currently involved in trying to force Apple to break its own encryption in an investigation involving a criminal's "smart"phone.

And all this because the "lawmakers" like to believe that they have the right to get in between a business and its customer. After all, can you imagine the pandemonium that would result if Big Brother wasn't looking over everyone's shoulder during every transaction?

So The Riddle of the Camera has a very simple answer: A camera is not a camera when the EU says it isn't. And that answer says so much about the matrix in which we live.