Wouldja Like Some Rights With Your Chips?

September 11th, 2002  |  Published in Uncategorized

The Boston Globe says Intel

has drunk the DRM kool-aid with the upcoming addition of “antipiracy” features.

This isn’t a terrible surprise. People in the computer industry have believed for a while that without control of the hardware, there’s little hope of controlling the distribution of software and other content.

The new features Intel is chunking in will work nicely with Microsoft’s Palladium, another DRM-focused effort and they leave us with a few questions that will need to be answered, including how far Microsoft and others will go to ensure that unsigned content and code won’t run. The article mentions that Palladium will prevent copying CD’s: how? Does that mean that Microsoft software won’t? Or is my copy of MusicMatch Jukebox hosed as well because of an interaction at the OS level with the DRM-respecting hardware?

How about unsigned code? No one’s paranoid enough to suggest that Intel’s going to try to “kill Linux” or anything else like that. It’s really just playing nice with the conventional wisdom, and will leave the hooks in place for whoever to take advantage of in whatever manner, but you have to wonder what it will mean for Windows developers. Fees, perhaps, for code to be signed and certified so it will run without warnings or nags about its probable “quality” or “safety”? Or if we want to take it to the paranoid extreme, how about an “unfortunate bug” in Windows XP Mark III or whatever that quietly shuts the machine down because it detects a “potentially hostile” pattern in the mbr of a given hard drive that needs to be removed before it can continue?

The privacy folks are already squawking, too, though I do believe the article when it quotes Intel’s pres as being very concerned with not repeating another CPU serial number fiasco. DRM can be enforced without “tracking people,” and I think they’ll work that out. Meanwhile, I think we can see the big squeeze coming for music. I wonder how many “seats” we’ll be entitled to when we buy the next n’Sync album?

The entertaining part of it all is in the consumers themselves.

We’ve been raised/programmed with a finely-honed acquisitiveness. What the music industry calls “theft” is pretty easily read as the consumer impulse finding its logical expression in the form of rampant music acquisition.

Consumers don’t like “sharing,” they like taking in big, heaping handfuls, and the obvious lesson of the industry’s panic over Napster is how completely consumers disregard copyright when it gets between them and the chance to get free stuff. How are they going to react to machines that are hostile to their desire to belly up to the online content trough? It rapidly becomes an all-or-nothing proposition for DRM’s proponents: it seems clear that DRM-respecting software will find itself lost in a market that likes to copy stuff and pass it out in exchange for more from others. In fact, the emphasis on the uses of the technology for “stopping viruses” is an early concession that copyright enforcement is simply not something most consumers will care about or want.

When the DRM game looked like a Microsoft-only thing, it was easy to back-burner. With Intel in on the racket, it’s going to take a lot more thought than I’ve given it in a few hastily typed paragraphs.

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