DRM and the Darknet

The folks over at Ars Technica UK were resting up after Thanksgiving and reran an article from 2012. The article discusses a paper (2002) by the Microsoft engineers who worked on Palladium, Microsoft’s Trusted Windows Project. The project failed partly due to a fierce backlash from the tech community that feared Microsoft was trying to lock down the PC. The paper was an attempt to allay those fears.

Meanwhile the paper, The Darknet and the Future of Content Distribution, made a series of predictions that have turned out to be largely true. The TL;DR is that DRM will always fail and never succeed in safeguarding Hollywood’s content.

The basic argument is that the DRM has to be perfect: strong enough to defeat even the most talented and motivated cracker not just the average user. I’m sure the Hollywood suits thought that if they just made the cracking hard enough to frustrate the average user, the few really talented crackers wouldn’t matter.

The paper argues that what would actually happen is that the crackers would release the decrypted content on the “Darknet” making it available to everyone. Back in 2002, “Darknet” didn’t have quite the same meaning as it does today but the concept is the same. The authors predicted that the content owners and law enforcement would target the most centralized parts of the darknet but that the darknet would respond by becoming more decentralized. That, of course, is exactly what happened.

It’s interesting to read about this 15 years on but it’s a little depressing to see that Hollywood still can’t bring itself to let get of the notion that maybe this time with this new DRM scheme we’ll succeed. Perhaps in another 15 years.

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