First, I call it copy protection rather than content protection, because "content" is such a meaningless word. What the technology actually does is to deter copying. Such technologies have a long history in computing, starting with the first microcomputers, minicomputers, and workstations. Except in very small niches, all such systems ultimately failed. Many failed because of active opposition from their buyers, who purchased alternative products that did not restrict copying.
There is nothing wrong with allowing people to optionally choose to buy copy-protection products that they like. What is wrong is when:
Pioneer New Media Technologies, who builds the recently announced recordable DVD drive for Apple, says "The major consumer applications for recordable DVD will be home movie editing and storage and digital photo storage". They carefully don't say "time-shifting TV programs, or recording streaming Internet videos", because the manufacturers and the distribution companies are in cahoots to make sure that that capability never reaches the market. Even though it's 100% legal to do so, under the Supreme Court's Betamax decision. Streambox built software that let people record RealVideo streams on their hard disks; they were sued by Real under the DMCA, and took it off the market. According to Nomura Securities, DVD Recorder sales will exceed VCR sales in 2004 or 2005, and also exceed DVD Player-only sales by 2005. (http://www.kipinet.com/tdb/1000/10tdb04.htm) So by 2010 or so, few consumers will have access to a recorder that will let them save a copy of a TV program, or time-shift one, or let the kids watch it in the back of the car. Is anyone commenting on that social paradigm shift? Do we think it's good or bad? Do we get any say about it at all?
Instead, consumers will have to pay movie/TV companies over and over for the privilege of time-shifting or space-shifting. Even if they have purchased the movie, and it's stored at home on their own equipment, and they have high bandwidth access to it from wherever they are. This concept is called "pay per use". It can't compete with "You have the right to record a copy of what you have the right to see". These companies can't eliminate that right legally, because it would violate too many of the fundamentals of our society, so they are restricting the technology so you can't exercise that right. In the process they are violating the fundamentals on which a stable and just society is based. But as long as society survives until after they're dead, they don't seem to care about its long-term stability.
It isn't just Apple who is misleading the consumer; it's epidemic. Sony portable mini-disc recorders only come with digital input jacks, never digital outputs. Sound checks in -- but only checks out in low-quality analog formats. Intel touts the wonders of their TCPA (Trusted Computing Platform Architecture). You have to read between the lines to discover that it exists solely to spy on how you use your PC, so that any random third party across the Internet can decide whether to "trust" you -- the owner. TCPA isn't about reporting to you whether you can trust your own PC (e.g. whether it has a virus), it doesn't include that function. It exists to report to record companies about whether you have installed any software that lets you make copies of MP3s, or any free software to circumvent whatever feeble copy-protection system the record company uses. Intel is pushing HDCP (High Definition Content Protection) which is high speed hardware encryption that runs only on the cable between the computer and its CRT or LCD monitor. The only signal being encrypted is the one that the user is sitting there watching, so why is it encrypted? So that the user can't record what they can view! If the cable is tampered with, the video chip degrades the signal to "analog VCR quality".
Intel is also pushing SDMI and CPRM (Content Protection for Recordable Media) which would turn your own storage media (disk drives, flash ram, zip disks, etc) into co-conspirators with movie and record companies, to deny you (the owner of the computer and the media) the ability to store things on those media and get them back later. Instead some of the stored items would only come back with restrictions wired into the extraction software -- restrictions that are not under the control of the equipment owner, or of the law, but are matters of contract between the movie/record companies and the equipment/software makers. Such as, "you can't record copyrighted music on unencrypted media". If you try to record a song off the FM radio onto a CPRM audio recorder, it will refuse to record or play it, because it's watermarked but not encrypted. Even when recording your own brand-new original audio, the default settings for analog recordings are that they can never be copied, nor ever copied in higher fidelity than CD's, and that only one copy can be made even if copying is ever authorized (if the other restrictions are somehow bypassed). Intel and IBM don't tell you these things; you have to get to Page 11 of Exhibit B-1, "CPPM Compliance Rules for DVD-Audio" on page 45 of the 70-page "Interim CPRM/CPPM Adopters Agreement", available only after you fill out intrusive personal questions after following the link from http://www.dvdcca.org/4centity/. All Intel tells you that CPPM will "give consumers access to more music" http://www.intel.com/pressroom/archive/releases/aw032300.htm). Lying to your customers to mislead them into buying your products is wrong.
Microsoft built some deliberately incompatible protocols into Windows 2000 so that competing Unix machines could not be used as DNS servers in some circumstances. Microsoft released a specification but only under an encrypted file format that claimed to require that readers agree not to use the information to compete with them. When someone decrypted the trivial encryption without agreeing to the terms, Microsoft threatened to use the DMCA to sue Slashdot, the popular free-software news web site, who published the results. (Luckily for us, Slashdot has a backbone and said "go ahead, we'll defend that suit" and Microsoft chickened out.) Copyright doesn't grant the right to prevent competition, or to restrict global trade -- but somehow the legislation that was enacted to protect copyrights is being used to do just those things.
We should be rejoicing in mutually creating a heaven on earth! Instead, those crabbed souls who make their living from perpetuating scarcity are sneaking around, convincing co-conspirators to chain our cheap duplication technology so that it won't make copies -- at least not of the kind of goods they want to sell us. This is the worst sort of economic protectionism -- beggaring your own society for the benefit of an inefficient local industry. The record and movie distribution companies are careful not to point this out to us, but that is what is happening.
If by 2030 we have invented a matter duplicator that's as cheap as copying a CD today, will we outlaw it and drive it underground? So that farmers can make a living keeping food expensive, so that furniture makers can make a living preventing people from having beds and chairs that would cost a dollar to duplicate, so that builders won't be reduced to poverty because a comfortable house can be duplicated for a few hundred dollars? Yes, such developments would cause economic dislocations for sure. But should we drive them underground and keep the world impoverished to save these peoples' jobs? And would they really stay underground, or would the natural advantages of the technology cause the "underground" to rapidly overtake the rest of society?
I think we should embrace the era of plenty and work out how to mutually live in it. I think we should work on understanding how people can make a living by creating new things and providing services, rather than by restricting the duplication of existing things. That's what I've personally spent ten years doing, founding a successful free software support company. That company, Cygnus Solutions, annually invests more than $10 million into writing software, giving it away freely, and letting anyone modify or duplicate it. It funds that by collecting more than $25 million from customers, who benefit from having that software exist and be reliable and widespread. The company is now part of Red Hat, Inc -- which also makes its living by empowering its customers without restricting the duplication of its work. It's no coincidence that the open source, free software, and GNU/Linux communities are among the first to become alarmed at copy protection. They are actively making their livings or hobbies out of eliminating scarcity and increasing freedom in the operating system and application software markets. They see the real improvement in the world that results -- and the ugly reactions of the monopolistic and oligopolistic forces that such efforts obsolete.
Converting the whole world to operate without scarcity is a huge task. Such a large economic shift would take decades to spread through the entire world economy, making billions of new winners and new losers. We will be extremely lucky if by 2030 we are prepared to end scarcity without massive social turmoil, including riots, civil unrest, and world war. If we are to find a peaceful path to an era of plenty, we should be starting HERE AND NOW, transforming the industries we have already eliminated scarcity in -- text, audio, and video. Companies that can't adjust should disappear and be replaced by those who can. As these whole industries learn how to exist and thrive without creating artificial scarcity, they will provide models and expertise for other industries, which will need to change when their own inefficient production is replaced by efficient duplication ten or fifteen years from now. Relying on copy-protection now would send us in exactly the wrong direction! Copy protection pretends that the law and some fancy footwork with industrial cartels can maintain our current economic structures, in the face of a hurricane of positive technological change that is picking them up and sending them whirling like so many autumn leaves.
Electronic Frontier Foundation
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