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Peter Biddle speaks at the ETech conference in 2007.

Scott Beale

Can digital rights management technology stop the unauthorized spread of copyrighted content? Ten years ago this month, four engineers argued that it can't, forever changing how the world thinks about piracy. Their paper, "The Darknet and the Future of Content Distribution" (available as a .doc here) was presented at a security conference in Washington, DC, on November 18, 2002.

By itself, the paper's clever and provocative argument likely would have earned it a broad readership. But the really remarkable thing about the paper is who wrote it: four engineers at Microsoft whose work many expected to be at the foundation of Microsoft's future DRM schemes. The paper's lead author told Ars that the paper's pessimistic view of Hollywood's beloved copy protection schemes almost got him fired. But ten years later, its predictions have proved impressively accurate.

The paper predicted that as information technology gets more powerful, it will grow easier and easier for people to share information with each other. Over time, people will assemble themselves into what the authors called the "darknet." The term encompasses formal peer-to-peer networks such as Napster and BitTorrent, but it also includes other modes of sharing, such as swapping files over a local area network or exchanging USB thumb drives loaded with files.

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An anonymous reader writes I'm part owner of a relatively small video editing software company. We're not yet profitable, and our stuff turned up on thePirateBay recently. Some of our potential paying customers are using it without paying, and some non-potential customers are using it without paying. Our copy protection isn't that tough to crack, and I'd rather see the developers working on the product than the DRM (I'm convinced any sufficiently desirable digital widget will get copied without authorization). Would it be insane to release a 'not for commercial use' copy that does some spying and reporting on you, along with a spy-free version for ~$10,000? I feel like that would reduce the incentive to crack the paid version, and legit businesses (In the US anyway but we're trying to sell everywhere) would generally pay and maybe we could identify some of the people using it to make money without paying us (and then sue the one with the biggest pockets). What would you do?"


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Click here to read Now This Is How Copy Protection Should be Done, People

In their attempts to thwart pirates, most PC publishers end up pissing off paying customers with intrusive or bothersome DRM. All, that is, except for Bohemia Interactive, who the likes of EA and Ubisoft could learn a thing or two from. More »

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