January 30, 2007

Memo From the Future: Why DRM is Doomed

Greetings. Historians looking back on the current battles over Digital Rights Management (DRM) will probably chuckle heartily when they review the bizarre and ultimately failed measures that were promulgated in attempts to control entertainment content during our era.

But we can still hope for a bit of their sympathy as well, since so many of the current DRM efforts are the work of very smart yet very desperate people, who mostly know in their hearts that the game is up, but still understandably wish to do everything they can to protect their content, franchises, and livelihoods.

One need only look at the utterly convoluted and almost Kafkaesque lengths that Microsoft's Vista and computer manufacturers are going through to try prevent the leakage of bits from "premium" content (e.g., hi-def versions of the "Gilligan's Island" box set), for us to recognize what can only be characterized as last gasp efforts.

Still, in the end these efforts will fail, and different business models will rise to take their places. Where demand for illicit copies exists, unencumbered bits will always find some way to escape from their bondage -- often through copies made by insiders within the production chains themselves, long before ostensibly "secure" versions ever reach consumer hands. The Internet guarantees that it only takes a single such "clean" illicit leaked copy to permeate the entire planet in short order, and for every watermarking or other control scheme deployed, hacker-provided countermeasures will quickly appear.

How this process will alter the entire ecosystem of creative talents and media is obviously not clear, but the change itself is inevitable. We need not like or approve of this course of events -- how we feel about it won't change the equation. We're all at the mercy of fundamental technological truths, especially in this case.

Interestingly, we don't even know how much financial loss can actually be attributed to this ongoing sea change, given the certain rise of other business models. We can't accurately determine how many illicit copies of music and movies really represent true lost sales. Many people collect available audio and video materials just to have them, but never would have bought them in the first place if they couldn't get them for free.

Evidence suggests that many of these same persons will willingly pay for legal copies when they perceive value-added content and fair pricing -- the robust sales of budget-priced DVD film compilations is a clear indicator of such potential.

A similar question permeated the world of phone phreaking decades ago. AT&T proclaimed millions in lost illicit phone calls revenue, but how many of those calls would really have been made if they had been charged? Few young phone phreaks really needed to hear the "speaking clock" in Sydney.

This isn't the first time that technological advancement has sent shivers through the body politic and its dominions.

The rise of the printing press initially was largely seen as a doomsday technology by then current powers. More recently, containerization caused upheavals throughout the shipping industry. Yet in so many of these cases, the affected entities found ways to profit from these new circumstances, even though major changes in their world views were typically necessary.

In the universe of the Internet and technology more generally, there are some battles that may well be winnable, especially when multidisciplinary in nature, but others that are doomed by the intrinsic nature of technological development. DRM appears to fall squarely into the latter category.

There are many detailed technical aspects to this story of course. These range from "fair use" arguments, to the apparent initial cracking of the new HD/Blu-ray copy protection system, to whether or not DRM content "revocation" systems can actually be triggered without massive consumer backlashes -- and everything in between.

None of these particulars matter much. They will merely be transient footnotes to the big DRM picture when viewed from years hence. No matter how you slice, dice, or litigate the issue, DRM is going to be as dead as the dodo -- the "Edsel" of computing history.

The sooner we accept the fact that DRM will fail in the long run, and we choose to move cooperatively beyond DRM's artificial technological distortions to hardware, software, and the economy, the brighter the outlook will be for everyone concerned.

Perhaps those future historians will have a surprise coming.


Posted by Lauren at 02:28 PM | Permalink
Twitter: @laurenweinstein
Google+: Lauren Weinstein

January 14, 2007

"The Big Fool Said to Push On" Redux

Greetings. More than two years ago in this blog, I noted the insightful lyrics of Pete Seeger's Vietnam-era song Waist Deep in the Big Muddy -- originally banned from CBS' Smothers Brothers television program.

In light of President Bush's recent decision to sacrifice more brave Americans at the altar of Iraq's civil war (which has been raging in one form or another throughout much of recorded history), I thought it appropriate to again reference Seeger's lyrics in that blog item.

How many more people must die in the furtherance of Bush's doomed neocon nightmare?


Posted by Lauren at 07:43 PM | Permalink
Twitter: @laurenweinstein
Google+: Lauren Weinstein

January 09, 2007

Satire: "Neutrality Rhapsody"

"Neutrality Rhapsody"

Lyrics Copyright © 2007 Lauren Weinstein.
All rights reserved.


To the tune of:
"Bohemian Rhapsody"

(With apologies to Freddie Mercury)

- - - - - - - - - - - - -

Is this the real Net?
Is this what has to be?
Promises broken,
ISPs have done this to me.

Open your eyes,
Look into your screens and see ...
We once had free speech,
And Net Neutrality,
But now they're easy come, easy go,
Telecoms run the show.

Wasn't there a way out?
Didn't have to happen,
You see.
You see ...

Web sites,
Don't work no more,
Since their throughput is too slow,
And I've nowhere else to go.

Web sites,
That we knew so well.
But the telcos and their gang took them away.

Web sites,
Sorry to say,
For granted we did take,
Now pay through the nose for all tomorrows ...
It's the way,
From today,
Or else our traffic's mangled.

Too late.
Delayed too long.
The telecoms plowed through,
Buying up all that we knew.

Now they really have us,
In a stranglehold.
Our communications controlled from on high.

Web sites,
Large ones and small,
Don't want you to die ...
Why'd we let this all get so bad at all?

      [ guitar solo  ]

I'm just a wee site,
Hardly have any money ...

      That's a shame,
      Just the same,
      Pony up some more moolah!

How can I ever innovate?
How can you treat me this way?

      'Cause we own you.
            Thought that you knew.
      'Cause we own you.
            And all you do.
      'Cause we've got you by the balls ...

Say it's not so, oh, oh, oh, oh ...

We are a big site,
Net costs us plenty ...

      A piece of your action,
      Is still the protection fee!
      Pay or choked data your users will see.

All we want,
All we ask,
Will you just play fair?

      We will not, no, we need not to play fair!

Just play fair!

      We will not, we're cable and telco ...

Just play fair!

      We will not, subscribers we control ...

Just play fair!

      You used our pipes for free ...

Just play fair!

      No business you will see ...

Just play fair, fair, fair, fair, fair!

      No, no, no, no, no, no, no!

Oh Congress,
Please make them play fair!

The time is past,
You all should have acted long ago, ago, ago ...

      [ another solo  ]

So you think you can warp the Net for your own profits?
So you can restrict to your walled gardens most of the bits?

Oh telecoms,
Can't do this to us telecoms,
Gotta get out,
Gotta find a way around you.

      [ extended musical interlude  ]

This all really matters,
The Internet we see.
It would all be different,
Without Network Neutrality.

That's what makes the Net go ...

< fini >

- - - - - - - - - - - - -

Lauren Weinstein
lauren@vortex.com or lauren@pfir.org
Tel: +1 (818) 225-2800
Co-Founder, PFIR - People For Internet Responsibility
Co-Founder, IOIC - International Open Internet Coalition
Founder, CIFIP - California Initiative For Internet Privacy
Founder, PRIVACY Forum
Member, ACM Committee on Computers and Public Policy
Lauren's Blog

Posted by Lauren at 10:26 PM | Permalink
Twitter: @laurenweinstein
Google+: Lauren Weinstein

January 06, 2007

ICANN Reverses Yet Again: Revives "Dot-Ex-Ex-Ex" TLD Proposal

Greetings. ICANN has reversed course yet again, with a revival proposal for a "dot-ex-ex-ex" Top Level Domain -- essentially the same bad idea as before with minor changes.

The related concerns that I noted in my Sept 2005 open letter to the porn industry still hold:

Why "Dot-Ex-Ex-Ex" is for Chumps


Posted by Lauren at 08:42 AM | Permalink
Twitter: @laurenweinstein
Google+: Lauren Weinstein