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Soulskill

centre21 writes "Having been on Slashdot for several years, I've seen a lot of articles concerning DRM. What's most interesting to me are the number of comments condemning DRM outright and calling for the abolishing DRM with all due prejudice. The question I have for the community: is there ever a time when DRM is justified? My focus here is the aspect of how DRM protects the rights of content creators (aka, artists) and helps to prevent people freely distributing their works and with no compensation. How would those who are opposed to DRM ensure that artists will get just compensation for their works if there are no mechanisms to prevent someone from simply digitally copying a work (be it music, movie or book) and giving it away to anyone who wants it? Because, in my eyes, when people stop getting paid for what they do, they'll stop doing it. Many of my friends and family are in the arts, and let me assure you, one of the things they fear most isn't censorship, it's (in their words), 'Some kid freely distributing my stuff and eliminating my source of income.' And I can see their point. So I reiterate, to those who vehemently oppose DRM, is there ever a time where DRM can be a force for good, or can they offer an alternative that would prevent the above from happening?"

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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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A proposed anti-copying extension for the WC3's standard for HTML5 has been submitted by representatives of Google, Microsoft and Netflix. The authors take pains to note that this isn't "DRM" -- because it doesn't attempt to hide keys and other secrets from the user -- but in a mailing list post, they later admitted that this could be "addressed" by running the browser inside a proprietary hardware system that hid everything from the user.

Other WC3 members -- including another prominent Googler, Ian Hickson -- have called for the withdrawal of the proposal. Hickson called it "unethical." I agree, and would add "disingenuous," too, since the proposal disclaims DRM while clearly being intended to form a critical part of a DRM system.

In an era where browsers are increasingly the system of choice for compromising users' security and privacy, it is nothing short of madness to contemplate adding extensions to HTML standards that contemplate designing devices and software to deliberately hide their workings from users, and to prevent users from seeing what they're doing and changing that behavior if it isn't in their interests.

Writing on Ars Technica, Ryan Paul gives a good blow-by-blow look at the way that this extension is being treated in the W3C:

Mozilla's Robert O'Callahan warned that the pressure to provide DRM in browsers might lead to a situation where major browser vendors and content providers attempt to push forward a suboptimal solution without considering the implications for other major stakeholders.

Some of the discussion surrounding the Encrypted Media proposal seem to validate his concerns. Mozilla's Chris Pearce commented on the issue in a message on the W3C HTML mailing list and asked for additional details to shed light on whether the intended content protection scheme could be supported in an open source application.

"Can you highlight how robust content protection can be implemented in an open source webrowser?" he asked. "How do you guard against an open source web browser simply being patched to write the frames/samples to disk to enable (presumably illegal) redistribution of the protected content?"

Netflix's Mark Watson responded to the message and acknowledged that strong copy protection can't be implemented in an open source Web browser. He deflected the issue by saying that copy protection mechanisms can be implemented in hardware, and that such hardware can be used by open source browsers.

"Unethical" HTML video copy protection proposal draws criticism from W3C reps

(Thanks, Rob!)

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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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Click here to read What? A PC Developer Who Actually Understands DRM?

In recent years publishers like Ubisoft, 2K and EA have done a great job pissing off paying customers with systems aimed at preventing piracy. Which, uh, is counter-productive! Especially when PC pirates are able to easily circumvent said measures. More »

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