ETech: DRM Panel

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Robert Kaye
Apr. 23, 2003 02:31 PM

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Cory Doctorow said: "57 million Napster users built the largest online library ever assembled using a bottom up fashion. The US constitution is used to build libraries, but copyright law is being used to burn down libraries." The goverment, influenced by large media companies, is changing the fundamental concepts of how information is made available to the public. The basic concepts written into the constitution by the founders are being changed by incumbent media companies. Cory skillfully puts this fundamental change into perspective by contrasting it to book burning, and even worse, library burning. Burning a books is commonly accepted to be a bad idea. Burning libraries is collosally stupid.

The incumbent media companies are committing a crime against society -- tearing down an ad-hoc digital library built literally overnight that should be celebrated as great feat of technology. We should learn the lessons from this bottom up shared library to create similar projects, but instead the trend with DRM (Digital Restriction Management) is to do everything possible to prevent this from happening again.

From the days of the piano roll the media companies have been trying to squash technology -- it happened with radio, it happened with the VCR and now its happening with DRM. Unlike the previous attempts to squash technology, the media companies are looking for unprecedented powers to control not only what users are doing, but also in how new computer systems are designed. Integrating DRM into hard drives, motherboards and even embedding watermarks into digital to analog converters to close the analog hole is completely ludicrous.

Andrew "bunnie" Huang, of Xbox hacking fame, pointed out that future chips with DRM support are likey to be subsidized by the companies who support the DRM technologies. If this actually works, it will make chips without DRM support more expensive since they are not subsidized by the DRM pushers. We can only hope that this math won't work out in the end -- if it does we're in serious trouble.

Furthermore, as Cory points out, the blame does not solely lie with the incumbent media companies. It's up to the users/creators of this library to "Stop scattering like roaches when the lights come on." The people who create this library need to become active in letting their congresscritters know how they feel. More political action is needed in order change the balance of copyrights back to something that resembles normal.

The last thought that Cory threw out was this:

"Is DRM the answer to a question we're not asking?"
"How do we burn this library down for good?"

Robert Kaye is the Mayhem & Chaos Coordinator and creator of MusicBrainz, the music metadata commons.