Mac Musings

Do You Trust Me?

Daniel Knight - 2001.07.05

Back in May, we looked at copyright and copy protection issues such as fair use, photocopies, tape duplications, ripping MP3s, and encrypted DVDs (see Copyright or Copy Wrong?). As I've been reading up on breaking of the the SDMI watermark and the secrecy surround it, I've concluded it all boils down to one word: trust.

Copyright came into being in good part to prevent book piracy. Even back in the days of handset type, some books sold well enough that a printer could make money from unauthorized copies. Copyright gave legal rights to the author and publisher. (For a lot more on the history of copyright, see Copyrights and copywrongs, Siva Vaidhyanathan, MSNBC, 2001.07.04.)

For a long time, that was good enough. Not many people had printing presses or record stamping equipment. But everything changed starting in the 1960s.

Thanks to technological breakthroughs, personal and large-scale copyright violation were much easier than ever before. It wasn't perfect - second- and third-generation tapes lost some quality, and high-speed dubs were inferior to real-time duplicates; photocopies were never as convenient as books; and old books burned from new negatives and plates tended to be of lower quality (the text would get fatter and fuzzier) than the originals.

I don't know what the level of piracy was, but I recall a lot of places selling 8-tracks that didn't come from the big record companies.

The digital revolution went a big step further. With personal computers, it was easy to duplicate a software program - so publishers started using various copy protection schemes. It took a lot longer for CD burners to become affordable, but by the late 1990s it had become very easy to burn your own copy of a CD - or even create your own personal mix of tunes.

Perfect copies. Excellent! Only one ingredient was missing.

Enter the Internet

Before the Internet, there were large-scale pirates with high-speed, high-volume equipment and individual users with low-speed, low-volume hardware. The Internet made it possible to share software (warez) and music (MP3s were developed to keep file sizes reasonable). Because of the worldwide nature of the Internet, we suddenly had a high-volume distribution system for individual users.

The warez community keeps a somewhat low profile (see Software Piracy and the Mac), but Napster made music swapping so ubiquitous people began to feel it must be legal. It wasn't.

Copy Protection

Given the opportunity to rip MP3s from our CDs and publish them for Napster users around the world, we collectively demonstrated to the record companies that we had no respect for their copyright. They could sell us CDs, but they couldn't trust us not to pirate their content.

Movie studios learned their lesson and built encryption into the DVD standard, but adding that to CDs might make them unusable on older stereos. Not that this is likely to stop studios from moving forward with new encryption schemes.

Everyone from software publishers to movie studios to record companies realizes that a faster, more broadly distributed Net only means more piracy. To protect their copyright, they believe they must copy protect their products. Thanks to Napster, we have collectively demonstrated our disregard for copyright law, strengthening their case for encryption. :-(

It's a sad thing when a company distrusts its customers. Microsoft has a new locking scheme for Windows where each install disk is unique and requires a specific installation code. The new Windows XP can apparently be installed only twice or on two specific machines, although I can't comprehend how they might enforce that. (Big Brother is watching you.)

You can't use the installation code from one disk to install Windows from another disk. This is going to make software tracking a real nightmare for schools and businesses with a lot of Windows machines. I'm grateful Apple hasn't resorted to such draconian schemes with their OS; the same goes for Linux.

The industry is still working on content protection for software and music. Microsoft is trying to wean Windows users from MP3 files in favor of ones that can be encrypted, locked, and copy protected. SDMI, the Secure Digital Music Initiative, is working on ways to "protect the playing, storing, and distributing of digital music such that a new market for digital music may emerge."

CPRM (Content Protection for Recordable Media), which Apple opposes, is an emerging standard for content protection on hard drives, burnable CDs and DVDs, and probably the memory cards used in MP3 players as well. It hasn't been adopted yet, but each vote by the "T.13 committee" comes closer to adopting it for hard drives.

Why? Because whether the vast majority of users are trustworthy or not, these industries have found a large enough number of users willing to violate copyright law that they feel content protection is necessary.

That's right - they don't trust us.