What's Wrong With Content Protection

From: Wilfredo Sanchez (wsanchez@apple.com)
Date: Mon Jan 22 2001 - 13:57:19 PST


19 January 2001


To: cryptography@c2.net
Cc: Ron Rivest <rivest@theory.lcs.mit.edu>, gnu@toad.com
Subject: What's Wrong With Content Protection
Date: Thu, 18 Jan 2001 17:06:07 -0800
 From: John Gilmore <gnu@toad.com>

Ron Rivest asked me:

> I think it would be illuminating to hear your views on the
> differences between the Intel/IBM content-protection proposals
> and existing practices for content protection in the TV
> scrambling domain.  The devil's advocate position against your
> position would be: if the customer is willing to buy extra, or
> special, hardware to allow him to view protected content, what is
> wrong with that?

There is nothing wrong with allowing people to optionally choose to buy
copy-protection products that they like.

What is wrong is when people who would like products that simply record
bits, or audio, or video, without any copy protection, can't find any,
because they have been driven off the market.  By restrictive laws like
the Audio Home Recording Act, which killed the DAT market.  By
"anti-circumvention" laws like the Digital Millennium Copyright Act,
which EFF is now litigating.  By Federal agency actions, like the FCC
deciding a month ago that it will be illegal to offer citizens the
capability to record HDTV programs, even if the citizens have the legal
right to.  By private agreements among major companies, such as SDMI and
CPRM (that later end up being "submitted" as fait accompli to accredited
standards committees, requiring an effort by the affected public to
derail them).  By private agreements behind the laws and standards, such
as the unwritten agreement that DAT and MiniDisc recorders will treat
analog inputs as if they contained copyrighted materials which the user
has no rights in.  (My recording of my brother's wedding is uncopyable,
because my MiniDisc decks act as if I and my brother don't own the
copyright on it.)

Pioneer New Media Technologies, who builds the recently announced
recordable DVD drive for Apple, says "The major consumer applications
for recordable DVD will be home movie editing and storage and digital
photo storage".  They carefully don't say "time-shifting TV programs, or
recording streaming Internet videos", because the manufacturers and the
distribution companies are in cahoots to make sure that that capability
NEVER REACHES THE MARKET.  Even though it's 100% legal to do so, under
the Supreme Court's _Betamax_ decision.  Streambox built software that
let people record RealVideo streams on their hard disks; they were sued
by Real under the DMCA, and took it off the market. According to Nomura
Securities, DVD Recorder sales will exceed VCR sales in 2004 or 2005,
and also exceed DVD Player-only sales by 2005.
(http://www.kipinet.com/tdb/1000/10tdb04.htm)  So by 2010 or so, few
consumers will have access to a recorder that will let them save a copy
of a TV program, or time-shift one, or let the kids watch it in the back
of the car.  Is anyone commenting on that social paradigm shift?  Do we
think it's good or bad?  Do we get any say about it at all?

Instead, consumers will have to pay movie/TV companies over and over for
the privilege of time-shifting or space-shifting.  Even if they have
purchased the movie, and it's stored at home on their own eqiupment, and
they have high bandwidth access to it from wherever they are.  This
concept is called "pay per use".  It can't compete with "You have the
right to record a copy of what you have the right to see".  These
companies can't eliminate that right legally, because it would violate
too many of the fundamentals of our society, so they are restricting the
technology so you can't EXERCISE that right.  In the process they ARE
violating the fundamentals on which a stable and just society is based. 
But as long as society survives until after they're dead, they don't
seem to care about its long-term stability.

What is wrong is when companies who make copy-protecting products don't
disclose the restrictions to the consumers.  Like Apple's recent
happy-happy web pages on their new DVD-writing drive, announced this
month (http://www.apple.com/idvd/).  It's full of glowing info about how
you can write DVDs based on your own DV movie recordings, etc. What it
quietly neglects to say is that you can't use it to copy or time-shift
or record any audio or video copyrighted by major companies.  Even if
you have the legal right to do so, the technology will prevent you. 
They don't say that you can't use it to mix and match video tracks from
various artists, the way your CD burner will. It doesn't say that you
can't copy-protect your OWN disks that it burns; that's a right the big
manufacturers have reserved to themselves.  They're not selling you a
DVD-Authoring drive, which is for "professional use only".  They're
selling you a DVD-General drive, which cannot record the key-blocks
needed to copy-protect your OWN recordings, nor can a DVD-General disc
be used as a master to press your own DVDs in quantity.  These
distinctions are not even glossed over; they are simply ignored, not
mentioned, invisible until after you buy the product.

It isn't just Apple who is misleading the consumer; it's epidemic. Sony
portable mini-disc recorders only come with digital INPUT jacks, never
digital OUTPUTS.  Sound checks in -- but only checks out in low-quality
analog formats.  Intel touts the wonders of their TCPA (Trusted
Computing Platform Architecture).  You have to read between the lines to
discover that it exists solely to spy on how you use your PC, so that
any random third party across the Internet can decide whether to "trust"
you -- the owner.  TCPA isn't about reporting to YOU whether you can
trust your own PC (e.g. whether it has a virus), it doesn't include that
function.  It exists to report to record companies about whether you
have installed any software that lets you make copies of MP3s, or any
free software to circumvent whatever feeble copy-protection system the
record company uses.  Intel is pushing HDCP (High Definition Content
Protection) which is high speed hardware encryption that runs only on
the cable between the computer and its CRT or LCD monitor.  The only
signal being encrypted is the one that the user is sitting there
watching, so why is it encrypted? So that the user can't record what
they can view!  If the cable is tampered with, the video chip degrades
the signal to "analog VCR quality".

Intel is also pushing SDMI and CPRM (Content Protection for Recordable
Media) which would turn your own storage media (disk drives, flash ram,
zip disks, etc) into co-conspirators with movie and record companies, to
deny you (the owner of the computer and the media) the ability to store
things on those media and get them back later. Instead some of the
stored items would only come back with restrictions wired into the
extraction software -- restrictions that are not under the control of
the equipment owner, or of the law, but are matters of contract between
the movie/record companies and the equipment/software makers.  Such as,
"you can't record copyrighted music on unencrypted media".  If you try
to record a song off the FM radio onto a CPRM audio recorder, it will
refuse to record or play it, because it's watermarked but not
encrypted.  Even when recording your own brand-new original audio, the
default settings for analog recordings are that they can never be
copied, nor ever copied in higher fidelity than CD's, and that only one
copy can be made even if copying is ever authorized (if the other
restrictions are somehow bypassed).  Intel and IBM don't tell you these
things; you have to get to Page 11 of Exhibit B-1, "CPPM Compliance
Rules for DVD-Audio" on page 45 of the 70-page "Interim CPRM/CPPM
Adopters Agreement", available only after you fill out intrusive
personal questions after following the link from
http://www.dvdcca.org/4centity/ .  All Intel tells you that CPPM will
"give consumers access to more music"
(http://www.intel.com/pressroom/archive/releases/aw032300.htm).  Lying
to your customers to mislead them into buying your products is wrong.

What is wrong is when scientific researchers are unable to study the
field or to publish their findings.  Professor Ed Felten of Princeton
studied the SDMI "watermarking" systems in some detail, as part of a
public study deliberately permitted by the secretive SDMI committee, so
they could determine whether the public could crack their chosen
schemes.  (SDMI would not allow EFF to join its deliberations, saying
that we had no legitimate interest in the proceedings because we weren't
a music company or a manufacturer.  There are no consumer or civil
rights representatives in the SDMI consortium.)  Prof. Felten was in the
New York Times last week, saying the SDMI people and Princeton's lawyers
are now telling him that he can't release his promised details on what
was wrong with these watermarking systems, because of the Digital
Millennium Copyright Act.  It's OK to tell the SDMI companies how easy
it is to break their scheme, but it isn't OK to tell the public or other
scientific researchers.

What is wrong is when competitors are unable to build competing devices
or software, vying for the favor of the consumers in the free market. 
Instead those devices are banned or threatened, and that software is
censored and driven underground.  Such as the open-source DeCSS and
LiViD DVD player programs.  Such as DVD players worldwide that can play
American "Region 1" DVDs.  EFF spent more than a million dollars last
year in defending the publisher of a security magazine, and a Norwegian
teenager, from movie industry attempts to have them censored and jailed,
respectively, for publishing and writing competing software that lets
DVDs be played or copied but does not follow the restrictive contracts
that the movie studios imposed on most players.  The movie studios spent
$4 million on prosecuting the New York case alone.  Few or no
manufacturers are willing to put ordinary digital audio recorders on the
market -- you see lots of MP3 players but where are the stereo MP3
recorders?  They've been chilled into nonexistence by the threat of
lawsuits.  The ones that claim to record, record only "voice quality

What is wrong is when the controls that are enacted to protect the
rights reserved under copyright are used for other purposes.  Not to
protect the existing rights, but to create new rights at the whim of the
copyright holder.  Movie companies insisted on a "region coding" system
for DVDs, because they would make less money if DVD movies were actually
tradeable worldwide under existing free-trade laws.  (They couldn't
charge high theatre ticket prices if the same movie was simultaneously
available on DVDs, and they couldn't combine the ad campaigns of the
theatres and the DVDs if they waited a long time between releasing it to
theatres and releasing it to DVDs.)  This system results in the
situation where a consumer can buy a DVD player legally, buy a DVD
legally, and put the two together, and the movie won't play.  The user
has every legal right to view the movie, but it won't play, because if
it did, movie companies might make less money. Similar controls exist in
DVDs to prevent people from fast-forwarding past the ads or those
nonsensical "FBI Warnings".

Microsoft built some deliberately incompatible protocols into Windows
2000 so that competing Unix machines could not be used as DNS servers in
some circumstances.  Microsoft released a specification but only under
an encrypted file format that claimed to require that readers agree not
to use the information to compete with them.  When someone decrypted the
trivial encryption WITHOUT agreeing to the terms, Microsoft threatened
to use the DMCA to sue Slashdot, the popular free-software news web
site, who published the results.  (Luckily for us, Slashdot has a
backbone and said "go ahead, we'll defend that suit" and Microsoft
chickened out.)  Copyright doesn't grant the right to prevent
competition, or to restrict global trade -- but somehow the legislation
that was enacted to protect copyrights is being used to do just those

What is wrong is when social policy is created in smoke-filled back
rooms, between movie/record company executives and computer company
executives, not by open public discussion, by legislatures, and by
courts.  The CPRM specification, for example, allows a distributor of a
bag of bits (who has access to software with this capability) to decide
that future recipients will not be permitted to make copies of that bag
of bits.  Or that two copies are permitted, but not three. This policy
is not legally enforceable, it was not created by law. The law says
something different.  But the policy will be enforced by equipment built
by all the major manufacturers, because they will be sued by the
movie/record companies if they dare to build interoperating equipment
that lets consumers make THREE copies, or copies limited only by their
legal rights.  Is it unexpected that such back-room policies end up
favoring the parties who were in the room, at the expense of consumers
and the public?

What is wrong is when the balance between the rights of creators and the
rights of freedom of speech and the press is lost.  Because any increase
in the rights of creators is a DECREASE in the public's right of free
speech and publication.  Whenever copyrights are extended, the public
domain shrinks.  The right of criticism, the right to dispute someone
else's rendition of the truth, is damaged.  The First Amendment gives an
almost absolute right to publish; the Copyright clause gives a limited
right to prevent publication by others.  Any expansion of the right to
prevent publication diminishes the right to publish.  For example,
nothing that was created after 1910 has entered the public domain,
because as the years went by, the term of copyright kept getting
extended.  But the copy-rights created by technological restrictions are
not even designed to end.  There is nothing in the SDMI or CPRM spec
that says, "After 2100 you will be permitted to copy the movies from

What is wrong is that a tiny tail of "copyright protection" is wagging
the big dog of communications among humans.  As Andy Odlyzko pointed
out, (http://www.research.att.com/~amo/doc/eworld.html, see "Content is
not king" and "The history of communications and its implications for
the Internet"), "The annual movie theater ticket sales in the U.S. are
well under $10 billion.  The telephone industry collects that much money
every two weeks!"  Distorting the law and the technology of human
communication and computing, in order to protect the interests of
copyright holders, makes the world poorer overall.  Even if it didn't
violate fundamental policies for the long-term stability of societies,
it would be the wrong economic decision.

What is wrong is that we have invented the technology to eliminate
scarcity, but we are deliberately throwing it away to benefit those who
profit from scarcity.  We now have the means to duplicate any kind of
information that can be compactly represented in digital media.  We can
replicate it worldwide, to billions of people, for very low costs,
affordable by individuals.  We are working hard on technologies that
will permit other sorts of resources to be duplicated this easily,
including arbitrary physical objects ("nanotechnology"; see
http://www.foresight.org).  The progress of science, technology, and
free markets have produced an end to many kinds of scarcity.  A hundred
years ago, more than 99% of Americans were still using outhouses, and
one out of every ten children died in infancy.  Now even the poorest
Americans have cars, television, telephones, heat, clean water, sanitary
sewers -- things that the richest millionaires of 1900 could not buy. 
These technologies promise an end to physical want in the near future.

We should be rejoicing in mutually creating a heaven on earth! Instead,
those crabbed souls who make their living from perpetuating scarcity are
sneaking around, convincing co-conspirators to chain our cheap
duplication technology so that it WON'T make copies -- at least not of
the kind of goods THEY want to sell us.  This is the worst sort of
economic protectionism -- beggaring your own society for the benefit of
an inefficient local industry.  The record and movie distribution
companies are careful not to point this out to us, but that is what is

If by 2030 we have invented a matter duplicator that's as cheap as
copying a CD today, will we outlaw it and drive it underground?  So that
farmers can make a living keeping food expensive, so that furniture
makers can make a living preventing people from having beds and chairs
that would cost a dollar to duplicate, so that builders won't be reduced
to poverty because a comfortable house can be duplicated for a few
hundred dollars?  Yes, such developments would cause economic
dislocations for sure.  But should we drive them underground and keep
the world impoverished to save these peoples' jobs?  And would they
really stay underground, or would the natural advantages of the
technology cause the "underground" to rapidly overtake the rest of

I think we should embrace the era of plenty and work out how to mutually
live in it.  I think we should work on understanding how people can make
a living by creating new things and providing services, rather than by
restricting the duplication of existing things.  That's what I've
personally spent ten years doing, founding a successful free software
support company.  That company, Cygnus Solutions, annually invests more
than $10 million into writing software, giving it away freely, and
letting anyone modify or duplicate it.  It funds that by collecting more
than $25 million from customers, who benefit from having that software
exist and be reliable and widespread.  The company is now part of Red
Hat, Inc -- which also makes its living by empowering its customers
without restricting the duplication of its work.  It's no coincidence
that the open source, free software, and Linux communities are among the
first to become alarmed at copy protection.  They are actively making
their livings or hobbies out of eliminating scarcity and increasing
freedom in the operating system and application software markets.  They
see the real improvement in the world that results -- and the ugly
reactions of the monopolistic and oligopolistic forces that such efforts

Converting the whole world to operate without scarcity is a huge task.
Such a large economic shift would take decades to spread through the
entire world economy, making billions of new winners and new losers. We
will be extremely lucky if by 2030 we are prepared to end scarcity
without massive social turmoil, including riots, civil unrest, and world
war.  If we are to find a peaceful path to an era of plenty, we should
be starting HERE AND NOW, transforming the industries we have already
eliminated scarcity in -- text, audio, and video.  Companies that can't
adjust should disappear and be replaced by those who can.  As these
whole industries learn how to exist and thrive without creating
artificial scarcity, they will provide models and expertise for other
industries, which will need to change when their own inefficient
production is replaced by efficient duplication ten or fifteen years
from now.  Relying on copy-protection now would send us in exactly the
wrong direction!  Copy protection pretends that the law and some fancy
footwork with industrial cartels can maintain our current economic
structures, in the face of a hurricane of positive technological change
that is picking them up and sending them whirling like so many autumn

This may be a longer discussion than you wanted, Ron, but as you can
see, I think there are a lot of things wrong with how copy protection
techologies are being foisted on an unsuspecting public.  I'd like to
hear from you a similar discussion.  Being devil's advocate for a
moment, why should self-interested companies be permitted to shift the
balance of fundamental liberties, risking free expression, free markets,
scientific progress, consumer rights, societal stability, and the end of
physical and informational want?  Because somebody might be able to
steal a song?  That seems a rather flimsy excuse.  I await your response.

John Gilmore
Electronic Frontier Foundation


Date: Thu, 18 Jan 2001 21:35:39 -0500
 From: Ron Rivest <rivest@theory.lcs.mit.edu>
To: gnu@toad.com
Cc: cryptography@c2.net
Subject: Re: What's Wrong With Content Protection

John --

Great essay... thanks for replying at such length!

I'm going to decline your (perhaps rhetorical) invitation to provide a
devils-advocate counter-argument, because I'm not the right person to do
so; I am far too liberal in my own views to be a fair representative of
the "dark side".  In any case, I was asking more for an education (which
you have generously provided) than an argument.


Ron Rivest


This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : Fri Apr 27 2001 - 23:18:59 PDT