Digital Restrictions Management and Treacherous Computing

It is long since copyright enforcing institutions exceeded the limit of decency in their “holly war” against piracy. They arrived to a point where they are calling “intellectual property” infringement “a crime” and children are thought that “piracy funds terrorism” [1][2]. Maybe these absurd arguments are enough to pass some bills through the US Senate or further terrorize the middle-class American citizens, but I always thought that to the rest of us they were just nonsense and filthy lies.

Apparently I was so wrong. These lies actually did manage to pass a very controversial law entitled the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) in the US Senate, which criminalizes production and dissemination of technology that can circumvent measures taken to protect copyright, not merely infringement of copyright itself, and heightens the penalties for copyright infringement on the Internet. And if this is not enough the US Senate is looking to pass the Consumer Broadband and Digital Television Promotion Act (CBDTPA) that would be even more restrictive than the DMCA. It would prohibit any kind of technology which can be used to read digital content without Digital “Rights” Management (DRM). Unfortunately these victories for copyright-owning interests (publishing, film, music and major software companies) over the copyright users’ interests are not common only to the US. In Europe the EU Copyright Directive comes close enough to the US DMCA although many aspects are not specified in the Directive and and depend of each EU member’s “implementation”.

Content publishers argue that DRM technologies are necessary to prevent huge revenue losses caused by illegal duplication of their works. Even though this argument is also questionable I will accept for now that copyright holders are affected by piracy. What I find dangerous is the ease with which civil liberties are sacrificed just to protect copyright. With DRM the users are no longer in charge of how they use the media: they are not able to make full use of devices they rightfully own, they are not able to make legal copies for backup purpose and they are not able to quote or make compilations under the right of fair use.

However, the DRM lobbyists don’t limit their influence to the distribution of copyrighted music or movies, they are starting to become more concerned with computing. The DRM umbrella is broad enough so that it can cover any technology that can be used to control and restrict the use of “digital media”. No, DRM is not about rights, but about restrictions, so a much more appropriate term for it is Digital Restrictions Management.

Now back to computing, something big has just happened: Intel has secretly added DRM features to its newly released dual-core Processors [4][5][6]. They will most likely try to ruin our freedoms under the pretext that will stop non-signed drivers, viruses, piracy, terrorism, drug smuggling and cancer. Well, as you might imagine, none of these will happen, but what might happen is that both Windows and Intel will strengthen their monopolies by destroying interoperability. And if all goes well for Intel the other processor producers (AMD, IBM, nVIDIA, ATI, Sony, Transmeta, HP are all members of the “Trusted” Computing Platform Alliance) might start adding DRM to their chips too. The wonderful dreams of free software and civil rights in cyberspace will be things of the past then, optimistic prophecies that never came true.

If you are worried about your digital rights, here are some places you might want to visit:

  1. Electronic Frontier Foundation – a nonprofit group of passionate people working to protect your digital rights.
  2. Trusted Computing FAQ
  3. – Computers and Internet gave you freedom. TCPA would TAKE your FREEDOM.
  4. – Corporations, we’ve had enough. Take back the Net!
  5. Can you trust your computer?, Richard Stallman, 2002
  6. The Right to Read, Richard Stallman, 1997
  7. Free Culture, Lawrence Lessig, Basic Books, 2004 – How Big Media Uses Technology and the Law to Lock Down Culture and Control Creativity. Available for free download.
  8. Beyond Fear, Bruce Schneier, Springer, 2003 – In his latest book, security guru Bruce Schneier explains how security really works. More than this he invites us to take a critical look at not just the threats to our security, but the ways in which we’re encouraged to think about security by law enforcement agencies, businesses, and national governments and militaries.

One Response to Digital Restrictions Management and Treacherous Computing

  1. […] for Digital Restrictions Management In march 2005 I wrote about DRM and what it means for our freedom and now I decided to publish a more technical sequel. Back then I […]

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