Do we really need trusted computing and digital rights management?
I’ve never thought much about the trusted platform module (TPM) inside my PC but recently I’ve heard a lot about the rights and wrongs of digital rights management (DRM) – a technology which looks certain to make ever greater use of the TPM.
I also came across a (well-produced) short video about trusted computing. It makes a very interesting point based on a definition of trust (confidence) being a “personal believe [sic] in the correctness of something… a deep conviction of truth… which cannot be enforced… [and which] always depends on mutuality”.
In the last few weeks, I’ve heard a lot about Microsoft getting bad press for implementing DRM technologies in Windows Vista (it seems to me that Hollywood gave them very little choice in order to allow Vista to play back high definition content); Apple’s Steve Jobs has spoken out in favour of dropping DRM in iTunes (and Daring Fireball published an alternative view on what Jobs might actually be saying – my view is that it’s an elaborate ploy by Apple not to appear as “the bad guys” as unrest with the questionable legality of the iTunes Store grows in mainland Europe); and EMI are reported as considering the release of their catalogue in a DRM-free format (make the most of it before they are bought by Warner).
Of course, supporters of DRM (which may be enforced via TPM) insist that without it, piracy and theft of copyrighted content will spiral out of control. Perhaps they should look at why this might be – only last week I wrote about how I had considered downloading music from underground sources because I couldn’t get hold of it legally. Over-zealous use of DRM will drive law-abiding citizens like myself to break copyright because the latest wave of DRM measures goes too far. With previous content (including digitally-produced CDs), I could make a copy for personal use under fair use legislation. So why should I have to buy high definition content over and over, just so that I can watch it on my TV, my computer and my iPod?
As the transition of audio/video content to an online delivery mechanism continues to gather pace, the vast majority of consumers will still buy their music/video legally – at least in the first world – and let’s face it, do we really need to clamp down on this phenomenon in the developing world? Isn’t that just greed?
Sony BMG’s rootkit fiasco showed how copy protection could be taken too far – a complete breakdown in the public’s ability to trust of one of the world’s largest content providers. If I’m to trust the content providers not to put bad things on my computer and if trust really is, by definition, mutual then why do we need DRM?
(A few moments ago, a poll of almost 6000 readers of the UK Financial Times – not exactly known for dumbing down to the masses – showed that 98% of those polled were in favour of music companies dropping DRM).