Dangers of Digital Rights Management

Over the past few days, I’ve been writing about the Microsoft/AOL deal and why I think that it is a dangerous one to all of us. My core fear about the deal is that it will increase lock-up in the Internet space due to a new concept called Digital Rights Management. When using such a system, content is encrypted based on a number of criteria. My fear is not that the content will be encrypted (after all, it should be OK for vendors to protect their intellectual property if they want to) but the fact that there is no DRM standard that can be shared across the industry as a whole. As a result, we could end up in what I fear will be a lock-up situation. In a recent Security Focus column, Scott Granneman highlights some of the issues surrounding that lock-up situation. Implementing a complete solution means giving more control to one particular software company. In Scott’s example, it is Microsoft. In the case of the Apple music store, that control is in the hands of Apple. Two different solutions, two different ways to handle things. As a result, there will be more fragmentation again, as content that works on one DRM system will not work on the other and vice-versa.

Granted, the interoperability issue will be resolved by the trusted computing platform alliance but that will also ensure that only a few large players will get to play. Ultimately, what this means is that we may be living in a world where we are more and more at the mercy of a few system providers. Basically, the deal is “play with us or don’t play at all”. Few of us believed they could actually manage it but it’s been a long term goal for Microsoft to win on the Internet and DRM may just gives it a chance to do so. Note to readers: If any reader happens to have a copy of Bill Gates’ speech on December 7, 1995 (Microsoft Internet Strategy Day), I would very much receiving a copy. It seems to have completely disappeared from the Internet

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