How surprising; another conspiracy theory regarding Microsoft. Cringley is completely ripping off “The Register“, without giving them credit, and mashing a whole bunch of things together to the point where he is confusing himself. The Reg has been reporting on Microsoft’s DRM strategy for a few years now, and in many cases with far more substance than Cringley.
The main problem with Cringley (and some of The Reg reporting) is that there area bunch of separate topics that are easy to get mixed up. One is the issue of publisher rights. Another is the issue of privacy and personal control over data. Last is network security.
- It is the publisher’s right to set licensing terms on the purchase. If the buyer doesn’t agree to the terms, he doesn’t have to buy the content license. This is the essence of ethical capitalism — all exchanges are voluntary. Just as it would be coercive (and therefore unethical)to demand that a buyer pay money for a product that he didn’t want, it would be coercive to demand that a seller give away more than she wants to give awayin exchange for the purchase price. Protecting the rights of the publisher goes hand in hand with protecting the rights of the consumer,neither exists without the other.
- Certain demagogues argue that IP protections are not ethical, and that a publisher should not have a right to restrict how her content is used. But even Cringley should know that Microsoft was always willing to debunk those charlatans. There is absolutely nothing new about Microsoft’s moral position regarding IP.
- Lack of good, ubiquitous DRM is the only thing holding us back from some really cool advances. More than two years ago, Microsoft started making some big bets on e-books. Eliminating paper from the traditional publishing process has massive social and economic implications. It would be better for consumers, authors, publishers, and (of course) Microsoft. Two years ago, we were already at the sweet spot on the curve of Moore’s Law, and there is certainly nothing technical preventing us from having ubiquitous e-books. The main thing standing in the way right now is lack of contentdue to publisher (and author) mistrust. Publishers won’t publish their stuff if it’s going to get ripped off, period. E-books have stalled for two years over this issue. It’s about time to solve it.
- Individual Privacy Rights– Privacy is like DRM for the individual. When you grant someone a license to use a particular piece of personal information, you want to be sure that the information is not being copied or used in ways that you had not authorized. I claimed above that progress is being stalled because publishers cannot trust that their information will be used according to their terms of agreement (and litigation doesn’t scale). Progress is also being stalled because consumers cannot trust that their private information will be used only in ways that are authorized by the consumer. Just like the book publisher says “I’m not going to give you my book if I think you are going to rip it off”, the consumer says “I’m not going to give you my address if I think you are going to sell it”. At no point do these ideas come into conflict — they are natural extensions of one another. And if not for purely moral reasons, both are going to be heavily funded simply because we need to solve them to enable new computing scenarios (“markets”).
- Network Security – General network security is a much broader issue, and in practice involves a whole lot of things besides copy protection and privacy rights. Privacy and DRM solutions often involve multiple different pieces of network security technology, but that does not mean that these technologies are exclusive to these scenarios. In other words, there are a whole lot of reasons why people are interested in single signon and crypto certificates, and DRM/privacy are not necessarily the biggest reasons.
One of the fallacies that so many articles seem trapped in is the idea that (enforcingpublisher rights== encroaching purchaser rights). I think people buy this argument because they have a naive notion that publishers are always BigCos and purchasers are normal people at home. And current populist wisdom says that BigCos screw over the little guy as a matter of cosmic law. Additionally, I think that GPL advocates buy this argument because they are conditioned to believe that anything less that pure collectivism is an affront to the purchaser’s rights. The simple way to address this fallacy is to point out that privacy reverses the roles. The consumer is “publisher” and the BigCo is “purchaser”. When I demand that Ameritech stop selling my address to bulk mailers, was that encroaching on their rights? Of course not! Would the GPL freaks argue that personal information should be released only under a “free as in freedom” license? “Sure Mr. telemarketer, you can have my address, but only if you agree to give it out for free to anyone who asks”.
The sloppiest articles go even farther, and extrapolate practically anything Microsoft is doing with security as being about publisher rights. If you have a vivid enough imagination, anything can be used as a secret weapon in Microsoft’s crusade to enslave you to Hollywood. One wonders why people like Cringley stop where they do. Do they really not know that Microsoft’s office supplies budget is also used to buy staplers and inkpens that could be used as weapons by federal marshals enforcing copyright laws? “The poor souls think that Passport is the only thing we’ve got up our sleeves; they’ll never know what hit them <... fades out to maniacal laughter ...>.“
But the strangest part is that people didn’t learn from all of the completely pointless furor overHailstorm. Hailstorm, like Palladium, was like a stem cell. More embryonic than an embryo — material that could be turned into any organ you want. Palladium seems to have spawned one thousand theories, all of the garden variety conspiracy strain. Nobody knows what the heck Palladium is, so they speculate. An epidemic of polemic, and nobody is quite sure what it’s about. “We don’t know what Microsoft is planning, and we don’t know whether they can pull it off, and we don’t know for sure if it is a conspiracy. But at least we know that it is called Palladium, and it is probably bad for the fish.”