Monday, December 02, 2002

The darknet rocks

When our internet connection blew last week, we were just about to comment on the recent ACM Workshop on Digital Rights Management, and so we never actually got round to it in the end.

You'll have heard of it probably because its the source of the reports that Microsoft have said that Digital Rights Management can't actually work; although that isn't entirely true. The Microsoft Crew's paper [Word format] was explicitly presented outside of Microsoft's auspisces, and their point wasn't so much that DRM couldn't work, just that it couldn't work effectively.

In a shock move of people actually talking sense for once, they observed that the more layers you put in place to make your content secure, the more attractive the unprotected options seem. They point to the software dongles as an example of how this works - software companies made a hardware key, without which their software wouldn't function. Instead of leading to purchases of legal software, it had the effect of sending consumers elsewhere - pirated versions which needed no dongle; older editions; competitors products. Impregnability, they conclude, is on a par with undesirability.

They also offered a term to describe all the naughty things that people do - describing the unofficial sharing of stuff as the "darknet", which we think is a great term. It makes the rather mundane and dull process of P2P filesharing at a stroke into a groovy, sexy, vampire-strewn endeavour. We shall be using it, we have no doubt.

Other papers were presented at the conference - Korba and Kenny suggested that while DRM is a privacy nightmare - as faceless corporations keep track of every time you play Just Like A Pill - it could also hold the way to ensure privacy online as well. And someone from UC Berkely proposed a new system of measuring online audiences, which is interesting, although it starts out by suggesting that online radio services might want to pretend their audiences are lower than they really are, which suggests that while they can count audiences with their eyes shut, Staddon and Johnson have no real understanding about the economics of broadcasting at all.

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