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Burnoff: Part 1 - The Bad Guys Win [Jan. 24th, 2006|01:56 pm]
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Going to the movies is not what it used to be. Security at the studio-owned theatres is heavy, it's not a trip to be taken lightly. But if you want to see the film everyone is talking about without waiting a year for the home release, you have little choice. When you enter the lobby the first thing you see are long ranks of tiny, thumbprint activated lockers. This is where you must leave all of your electronics, your personal server and peripherals, even your watch, and you had better not be wearing smart spectacles or contacts. As you enter the security zone you're scanned for anything you may have forgotten. Cochlea and optical implants must be capable of responding with a coded RF identification signal to indicate their systems are secure and cannot record. People with older models, or models implanted abroad where such interrogation is illegal, are turned away. Perhaps they would like to see one of the older releases? Once through the scanner you must submit to a biometric ID test - this is where the known bloggers, hackers and spoilers are ejected. Finally there is the non-disclosure agreement to be signed - these days most moviegoers choose to sign via the MPAAs annual subscription, just trying to take some of the hassle out of visiting the cinema. Finally you get to see the film. In the auditorium the audience is constantly scanned by an AI looking for suspicious activity, so don't rummage in your pockets for too long. It's strange that all this effort to protect the movie industry has done so little to improve the movies.

You don't really own your home computer, or even the data you keep on it. Oh, you paid for it, just like you paid for the fibre-optic Internet connection that it can't function without, but now it squats under your TV using your electricity and does more work for the content industry than for you. The nightly security patches it downloads for itself don't secure your computer against attackers, they secure the system and software against you. TV-on-demand seemed like a dream come true when you first opted in and upgraded all your hardware, but the slowly encroaching charges are becoming a disincentive to turn on at all. Sometimes the last episode of a series makes up 50% of the cost of the whole season.

The Internet is not what it used to be. It's expanded, naturally, the technology giving everyone mobile PCs with vast ad-hoc networking capabilities, it's faster, more efficient, and more available, but it's also more restrictive. Since the ISPs were made responsible for the content they deliver their filtering has become neurotic. Anti-terror, piracy, plagiarism and libel filters search every request and response for signs of illegal activity, always erring on the side of caution. Wikipedia's index has been decimated. Popular blogs like Boing Boing now have more lawyers involved than contributors (the one's that have survived that is). Even if you managed to get something illegal through the filters your operating system's regularly updated self-check mechanisms would eventually root it out, or report you to the authorities, usually both.

These days it seems like every time you turn on one of your gadgets you have to fight with its DRM to get it to do what you want. The home movie of your daughter opening her birthday presents is ruined by a patch of grey fog that shifts with every movement of the camera, tracking sluggishly to keep the TV screen in the background obscured. From the codes embedded in TV's update pattern your camera had decided the show was not licensed for this form of reproduction and blocked it. You wish you had thought to turn it off at the time, but squinting into the camera's tiny screen it hadn't looked so bad.

Even once recorded, your own media is not safe. Everything is stored on your home PC, trapped in the solid-state drive's proprietary filing system. Once there, the only reasonable way to transfer it is to another trusted drive from the same vendor - the DRM won't recognise any other brand of mass storage device. In the meantime the PC constantly searches your files looking for illegal material. A recent security patch has destroyed the last video of your father. According to the email report you received that same morning the latest video and photographic scanning protocols had decided something seen in the footage resembled a new government building, the appearance of which is now classified. You know for sure that there is no such building in the footage, it was all filmed in the old man's living room. But there's no way for you to prove that with the offending shots turned to grey fog.

You just don't see physical media anymore. Too easily duplicated, their security too easily cracked, they've been dropped in favour of heavily encrypted and vendor-locked streaming media. You don't 'own' copies of any music or movies these days, instead your monthly subscriptions grant you only the right to temporarily buffer a few seconds of the distributor's authorised files while you watch or listen. Ultimately, that was the reason ad-hoc networking protocols and mobile PC technologies were pushed so hard, not because the customers wanted them but because the music and movie industries needed them to replace the vulnerable duplication method normally needed for such mobile media.

Physical bookshops are a novelty now; they only sell works that are in the public domain, and only to a few die-hard paper enthusiasts. Their prices rise steadily as demand drops and the printing and binding industry falters. Tightened regulation has made it illegal to sell second hand books that are still under copyright - the bookshops will sometimes give the customer a few cents for old books, part of a commission they receive for sending them off to be destroyed by the publishers. Public libraries have almost disappeared - unable to adapt to an environment where more and more books were only available in locked digital formats, they were forced to close all but the largest repositories - and even those are rapidly becoming obsolete. The last book you tried to download to you eReader turned out to be incompatible. The latest novels are now being streamed as well, one page at a time, and you'll have to buy a new reader that supports wireless quantum encryption. It seems odd that you're old enough to remember when photocopiers were still legal.

The only way writers can get their novels read, or musicians have their music heard, is by signing with a content provider who will claim the work as their own and charge people for access. It's nearly impossible for artists to make money anymore. The celebrities you read about, the millionaires who's contribution to the industry was actually rewarded, are a microscopic minority. But wasn't it always that way? There is nothing to stop an author from reading a work aloud in public, or a band from performing to a live audience, but few beyond that space will hear it. Hardly anyone has access to the technology that would let them record what they're hearing, at least not in any permanent form, and even fewer have the means to share it once they have. And god forbid the artists accidentally use a sentence or lyric already claimed by one of the corporations...

Somewhere out there, hackers and open-source software programmers are still working, beleaguered by diminishing supplies of usable hardware, ever tighter controls on imports and the furious unflinching eye of the authorities. They are constantly interrogated, their work searched for copyright and patent infringements, for any new technologies the content providers and national security services can't control. They can write competitive applications, they can make the systems work faster, more efficiently, if they weren't so fearful, they could make it free. What they can't do is tell anyone that needs to know.

Some browsing material for your (dis)pleasure, in no particular order:
Cinemas as police-states [BoingBoing.net]
UK cinema copyright warnings: a call to action [BoingBoing.net]
Trusted Computing: Promise and Risk [EFF.org - Electronic Frontier Foundation]
Your General-Purpose PC --> Hollywood-Approved Entertainment Appliance [EFF.org]
Protected Media Path, Component Revocation, Windows Driver Lockdown [EFF.org]
Analog Hole Bill Introduced [EFF.org]
New Senate Broadcast Flag Bill Would Freeze Fair Use [arstechnica.com]
Big Content would like to outlaw things no one has even thought of yet [arstechnica.com]
The Dangers of Device Authentication [EFF.org]
Battle for the digital bookshelf gains momentum [NewScientist.com]
Quantum cryptography network gets wireless link [NewScientist.com]
MP3 creators to add copy protection [NewScientist.com]
Movie & Music Industry Proposals ISP Self-Regulation [ConstitutionalCode.blogspot.com]
MPAA want control of both technology and customers. [Corante.com - broken layout]
The 15 enemies of the Internet and other countries to watch [rsf.org]
France about to get worst copyright law in Europe? [BoingBoing.net]
French Government Lobbied to Ban Free Software [FSFFrance.org]
eucd.info - Site created to face the threat from the French copyright overhaul.
What If Copyright Law Were Strongly Enforced in the Blogosphere? [ConcurringOpinions.com]
Study: how Canadian copyright law is bought by entertainment co's [BoingBoing.net]
Vatican 'cashes in' by putting price on the Pope's copyright [TimesOnline.co.uk]
Shirky: stupid (c) laws block me from publishing own work online [BoingBoing.net]
The Copyrighting of Public Space [NewUrbanist.blogspot.com]
Jamming device aims at camera phones [news.com.com]
Yet another account of a paranoia-tinged screening [Defamer.com]
No taking pix of San Fran building from the sidewalk? [BoingBoing.net]
A-Hole bill would make a secret technology into the law of the land [BoingBoing.net]

Previously in this blog:
An e-Paper Manifesto
Remember when music used to come on coasters?
Overpriced, Dusty Chunks of Pulverised Rainforest: An Endangered Species
Random Music Generators Save the Earth
How to Save Music
Digital Analogy Management

[User Picture]From: yaanu
2006-01-24 11:00 pm (UTC)


I can't wait to see Part 2. Hint us on what it's about?

This utopian setting would be perfect for some book, like "1984" all over again... sort of.
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[User Picture]From: tarmle
2006-01-24 11:41 pm (UTC)

Re: Amazing.

Glad you enjoyed it (if "enjoyed" is the right word).

Obviously we need to see what happens when the good guys win, an idea of what the truly creative people of the world could do if they're just left alone for long enough.
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Re: Amazing. - (Anonymous) Expand
From: (Anonymous)
2006-01-24 11:47 pm (UTC)

Based on one really fundaumental flaw.

Security at the studio-owned theatres is heavy, it's not a trip to be taken lightly.

Yet, at least in the US, studios aren't allowed to own theaters.
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[User Picture]From: tarmle
2006-01-25 12:03 am (UTC)

Re: Based on one really fundaumental flaw.

But wouldn't they love to?

If they can buy representation in government, they can buy anything.
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From: (Anonymous)
2006-01-24 11:48 pm (UTC)

Love it

A great portrait of the way we're moving. The worst part is how all these restrictions are made in tiny steps so we don't notice. Then one day -BAM- we're in your future.

A similar dystopian future in Max Berry's book, Jennifer Government. It's a hilarious and chilling novel...
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[User Picture]From: tarmle
2006-01-25 12:08 am (UTC)

Re: Love it

Exactly, if we could persuade everyone to read Boing Boing and keep up with EFF I'm sure it would be different. The feeling I get is that most people don't care, or at least don't realise they're supposed to care. It's an open invitation to some truly ridiculous scenarios.

Thanks, I'll have to look that title up.
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[User Picture]From: corbie_da_elder
2006-01-25 12:50 am (UTC)

Connie Willie

Seeing the abbreviated post on BoingBoing! brought to mind Connie Willis's short story "Ado". It too deals with the scary but logical results of governance gone mad.
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[User Picture]From: tarmle
2006-01-25 04:20 pm (UTC)
I really ought to remember that one, I'm sure I've read most of her short fiction. Now I have to go rummage in my old anthologies looking for it.
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[User Picture]From: pyesetz
2006-01-25 01:00 am (UTC)
Congratulations on your mention in BoingBoing!
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[User Picture]From: tarmle
2006-01-25 04:22 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I think in the end that may well save most of us from this horror. But it's by no means a guarantee. Remember, the enforcement of regional lockout on DVDs and console games is illegal in some countries, their electronics have to be built to ignore it. But the rest of us still have to put up with it. We could very easily end up with a similar situation where the systems are always manufactured in two flavours one for the countries in information lockdown, another for rest of the world.

I think your version is an excellent way to describe the debilitating nature of DRM to the people who just don't seem to notice its influence on their lives. Kind of like the DRM coffee-maker.

BTW, I love your photography. I've just spent a wonderful half-hour browsing your blog.
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From: (Anonymous)
2006-01-25 04:34 am (UTC)

great scenario

I have been thinking about IP in the aesthetic control economy as well. Check out my article "Neuro-futures" at:

a snippet:

"In the neurostate, this jurisdiction reaches into the human brain. As it stands now, content cannot be perfectly controlled. But, for example, if content could only be accessed by those with the correct codes based on a proprietary physical platform, vertical control could be achieved over all the layers. The physical platform for ideas is the human brain. For example, imagine a company develops a particular technology to allow a person to learn foreign languages quickly through a special implant in the brain. In order to keep others from infringing on their technology, they could bundle their particular implant with their particular language acquisition software. In this example, the content (the language being learned) would not be controlled, but it is not hard to imagine a scenario in which particular ideas and information could only be accessed with the right code and perceived only by having the correct “hardware.” Sony movies could only be watched with Sony’s visual implant; movies could automatically fade from memory after seven days, ideas could be “fixed” for copyright by recording devices in the brain. In another materialization of metaphor that cyborg technology seems to bring about, people might go shopping for actual thought vehicles!"

Jake dunagan
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[User Picture]From: tarmle
2006-01-25 04:25 pm (UTC)

Re: great scenario

The idea of introducing DRM to people's brains is just deliciously awful, and not far from becoming a potential truth. There's the guy who's hacking his own cochlear implant to improve the firmware. What if the vendor didn't want people messing with their proprietary system? Would they actively prevent the person with the thing embedded in their skull from accessing it? It's a scary thought.
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Re: great scenario - (Anonymous) Expand
[User Picture]From: windnight
2006-01-25 05:55 am (UTC)
this was a nice random LJ find of the day. thanks for writing such a scarey bit of fiction!
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[User Picture]From: tarmle
2006-01-25 04:25 pm (UTC)
My pleasure... I think.
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From: fred_smith
2006-01-25 11:29 am (UTC)

The only option I could see in such a world is what I'm workjing towards anyway. Separation from popular culture and the creation of a new tribe with its own stories and information sources in the community thats already here. But, that is limiting in many ways.
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[User Picture]From: tarmle
2006-01-25 04:28 pm (UTC)
But the question is, would we be allowed to separate, without actually leaving the country that is? With DRM the content industries clearly want to herd consumers into a single presentation of culture, to actively prevent us from re-generating and re-presenting it as something else. If we were to simply stand back from that situation, would we have access to the technologies we might need to propagate our version of culture, or would we be trapped in a community cut off from the world by pre-industrial communications? I assume those are the kinds of limitations you mention.

Perhaps the answer is not to separate but to clash, to actively combat the limiting technologies and demonstrate the harm they're doing to our societies.
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From: (Anonymous)
2006-01-25 12:04 pm (UTC)

Hey wait a minute...

This reminds me of a novel I once wrote, where the military of the future controls all digital information about an ongoing war.
They have a device that scrambles all attempts to shoot pictures of atrocities with digital cameras... and the "resistance" counters this by using *hand-cranked* cameras with chemical-emulsion film, just like in the silent-movie era.

So there ARE ways to resist this dystopian scenario. As for musicians... what stops them from busking? In your gloomy vision, the DRM authorities wouldn't be able to stop artists from playing outdoors concerts "unplugged".

Like it was written on Woody Guthrie's guitar: "This machine kills fascists." The revolution will not be streamed...


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[User Picture]From: tarmle
2006-01-25 04:30 pm (UTC)

Re: Hey wait a minute...

That's wonderful.

I think the problem with artists working solely in real situations, playing live, reading aloud or doing their own printing and binding, is that culture has become something much more fluid and frictionless in the last couple of decades. The technology the content providers are lining up for us would provide a 'generic' culture that is fast and bright and loud, presented as 'all there is', and an artist reduced to dissemination via word-of-mouth and printing presses just can't compete. However, I think we can rest assured it will never come to that, not while the good guys are still fighting.
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From: (Anonymous)
2006-01-25 04:47 pm (UTC)

Print-on-demand saves the book

Your techno blitz ignores the fact that anyone can become a print publisher by signing with Lightning Source Inc. There is no way for the binding industry to "falter" that way because Print-on-demand (POD) uses a sophisticated xerox machine that prints about 200 pages per minute and churns out a book for $3.00. That technology is mature and not going away, rather it is increasing in use.

Victor R. Volkman, Loving Healing Press
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[User Picture]From: tarmle
2006-01-25 10:29 pm (UTC)

Re: Print-on-demand saves the book

That's an interesting point. You're probably right, in this little nightmare that may well be the most cost-effective way for the few last physical bookshops to run. With a huge number of public domain works on the catalogue and an increasingly small number of customers there might not be any option but to go POD.

But think of this from the publishers' point of view: a hundred people can read a singe physical copy of a book, and that means ninety-nine of them didn't have to pay for it. If the book is published in a heavily DRMed format then every one of those hundred people would have to pay to read it, which makes more sense from a purely economic perspective.

Let's say a new writer decides to publish using POD, and are 'discovered' by print readers. All the publishers have to do offer the author a huge payment for the work and gain control of it. Regardless of their moral stance the writer would be a fool to turn down instant cash for mere words - and it would also be the best way to reach the greatest number of readers. As a result of the contract the POD services are not allowed to print the work anymore. As clever as the POD systems are there is no way they can generate the sort of reward for the work that the e-publishers could offer, so there's no incentive for authors to keep distributing that way.
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[User Picture]From: natowelch
2006-01-25 08:26 pm (UTC)
So long as there are Creative Commons artists publishing under cc licenses, DRM will be moot. Devices will need to play media formats that are not protected. At the very least, home media made by common people will need to be DRM-free, necessitating recorders that play un-DRM'ed formats at the consumer level. This will pretty well insure, I think, that corporate interests will never lock up media behind proprietary formats - DRM or not. They'll have to play unlocked formats, provided they remain popular enough. Take the iPod - would it sell like it does if it only played iTunes DRM? No. They HAD to play un-drmed mp3 (not that mp3 doesn't have its own patent problems). So long as a credible body of creators roll their eyes and scoff at the mention of DRM, devices will remain free, because no one will buy them otherwise.

The analog hole scanner you mentioned is a real threat here, but the scariest part about that is it's technical infeaibility. The point isn't that it doesn't work, it's that Congress is going to MANDATE something that doesn't work!.
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(no subject) - (Anonymous) Expand
From: (Anonymous)
2006-01-25 11:04 pm (UTC)

Lockers? You gotta be kidding...

If the airport security system is any indication, you'll just be expected to surrender any electronics devices (prosthetic or not) before entry.
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[User Picture]From: tarmle
2006-01-26 02:14 am (UTC)

Re: Lockers? You gotta be kidding...

Think of it as a self-service strip-search.
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[User Picture]From: ronswartz
2006-01-26 02:05 am (UTC)

This is brilliant

Tarmle, I think you're right on the money.

Probably the only thing that will stop this from coming true is if people wake up and fight it. Don't buy products with DRM, and don't vote to re-elect your congresspeople if they support legislation such as the Broadcast Flag. Corporate money can't buy an election if enough people refuse to believe the ads and vote their conscience instead.

Don't assume that other people will fight for you. YOU have to do something, or else you will deserve this future.
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[User Picture]From: tarmle
2006-01-26 09:14 pm (UTC)

Re: This is brilliant

Absolutely right.

Whenever you talk about DRM, be sure to raise your voice.
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From: (Anonymous)
2006-01-27 06:21 pm (UTC)

MPAA/RIAA are fine with this scenario

What is scary is that this is the world the MPAA and RIAA are working to achieve. They would be perfectly happy enslaving the world.
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From: (Anonymous)
2006-02-25 05:38 pm (UTC)

Architectures of control

Very impressive tarmle, and very disturbing. I'm glad you did Part 2 to redress the balance!

I've blogged about it at 'Architectures of Control in Design' (http://architectures.danlockton.co.uk ), which examines and tracks DRM-like control being designed into all manner of products, systems and environments. If you've got any examples, even theoretical, please feel free to contribute!

Best wishes
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[User Picture]From: tarmle
2006-02-27 05:42 pm (UTC)

Re: Architectures of control

Thank you.

A fascinating blog. I'll certainly offer any finds I make.
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From: (Anonymous)
2006-10-29 08:34 am (UTC)

Great read

Thats a good read. I don't believe things will get that bad, although maybe for you poor souls in the US it will. I'm actually all for a bit more Big Brother control. But thats another story.

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From: samm_on
2009-09-17 02:22 pm (UTC)
I didn't know that you actually have to sign a nondisclosure agreement to see a movie, aren't these safety politics going too far? You already passed through all the checks before seeing that movie, it's a little too much I think.
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