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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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