Dennis D. McDonald ( consults from Alexandria Virginia. His services include writing & research, proposal development, and project management.

Collaborative Deconstruction of DRM

Collaborative Deconstruction of DRM

By Dennis D. McDonald

There's a terrific series of articles and comments over at Freedom to Tinker that involves the authors' pre-publication of a detailed analysis of DRM technology. Some of the stuff is pretty technical, but if you take the time, you'll be impressed with the analysis and with the many intelligent comments that are being left (I left one, for example!)

The authors do address the motivation of Sony-BMG and others as being not to control piracy -- DRM won't deter large scale technically competent thieves -- but to control competition, "fair use," and what customers do with a product after they purchase it. This is one of the reasons that, sadly, I've stopped purchasing music through iTunes, which I consider to be a wonderful service, but which I am uncomfortable with due to its proprietary encoding scheme that might prevent me from using my purchases in the future.

I also wanted to mention the collaborative nature of what the authors are doing at Freedom to Tinker. They are opening up their "white paper" to public comments before they finalize it. While this collaborative practice has risks (trolling and lawsuits for example) it has the benefit of exposing possible flaws to public scrutiny as well as the potential for generating useful insight. This is similar to the confidential "peer review" process used by scholarly and academic journals that ask for "peer reviewer" comments on submitted articles prior to publication -- except that here the process is out in the open.

A possible downside of this practice is that, even though the authors may publish a "final" version of their paper, all preceding versions of the paper will be floating around the Internet for all eternity. Even minor typographical errors will be enshrined, as will major (and minor) technical flaws that may be present in early versions.

These risks have to be weighed against the value of the collective "eyeballs and brains" that can be brought to bear on a topic prior to publication. This process may not be appropriate for all types of intellectual property (e.g., you certainly would not want to openly publish information that might significantly benefit a competitor) but here I think it works very well.


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