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On The Flip Side
by Michael Munger

Your Computer Freedom Threatened by CPRM?
January 5th, 2001

People have scary ideas. There are certain freedoms that we should consider sacred, and they include freedom of speech and action on the Internet. It seems that at any given time, someone is busily working on a new way to campaign against that freedom.

This time, Intel, IBM, Matsushita and Toshiba have formed an entity called 4C, and they have scary plans in the works. This is the group behind the potential application of Copy Protected Recordable Media system to the computer. This is what that means, courtesy of The Register's explanations:

CPRM or Content Protection for Recordable Media is a mechanism for controlling the copying, moving and deletion of digital media on a host device, such as a personal computer, or other digital player.

Each CPRM-compatible ATA hard drive is individually signed, and authenticates the playback and movement of files on the device against a central server using CPRM-compliant software.

The media downloaded must also have restrictions placed upon its reproduction - but then, that is the whole point of protecting files with CPRM isn't it?

The user must also have the keys - or access to the keys - when the signed media is moved, or copied or deleted. Downloaded media is associated with an individual drive, so if you cannot produce the keys, then restore operations will fail.

I am not about to make this whole piece about CPRM. I am sure that I do not grasp the whole technical side of it, and I think that it still remains to be seen if it will be accepted as a standard.. There is a lot that would have to happen before that happens, and it may end end up being just one more failed attempt to cut into our freedom. Meanwhile, you should read these two pieces from Charles W. Moore at Applelinks for a great analysis of the possible impact of CPRM and how to stop its use.

The very idea that I wish to discuss here is... the thought of restricting freedom. Do not get me wrong. I do not advocate limitless freedom. I believe in two things:

  1. One person's freedom stops where somebody else's freedom starts.
  2. Freedom comes with responsibilities. We do not just have rights. We also have responsibilities and no right should come without it.

To a certain extent, however, we should enjoy a certain level of freedom, including when we use a computer. I believe that freedom of speech and action on the Internet is important, even comparable to political freedom. We should have the right to do what we want, as long as we do not concretely hurt other people's rights.

I agree that the computer and music industry should work hard to find a solution to piracy. Piracy is a large problem for content providers and authors, since they do not get the well-deserved rewards for their hard work each time that someone copies their material while that same person could make a purchase. It must be why I do not own a single audio CD that I did not buy at the local music store.

I am not sure, however, if it is right to find solutions that can ultimately harm our rights.

Every once in a while, we hear a crazy idea that, if applied, would turn the Internet into something comparable to the TV. Television is a one-way media. You pay (or advertisers pay), they send, you receive. You do not get to use the media to respond, or to go ahead and start something on your own.

When the Internet hit society like a freight train, a lot of people's knee-jerk reaction was to try and impose their ideas of what was right and wrong. They would often hold up porn sites and "make a bomb yourself" pages as being representative of what you find on the Internet. Some folks suggested that governments should tighten their grip on it, and exercise power over its content just as it does for other media.

Fortunately, my homeland set the example that all others should follow. Governments or industries should not try to clutch the Internet, if only for the sake of its development. Remember that the Internet could become the biggest technological revolution since the advent of print and reactionary impulses could hurt it seriously.

Yes, we should crack down on piracy, on abuse of free speech and all other illegal activities, but not at the extreme price of harming freedom itself.

Is this just a knee-jerk reaction as I described earlier? Do people have a knack for conceiving schemes when a good hi-tech revolution unveils before our eyes?

Even if change is not always beneficial - "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" - there are transformations that you cannot and should never try to stop. A European history professor I once had said that there are overwhelming changes that society cannot avoid. He said that when the world entered the industrial era, many people were unhappy to see the "old order" crumble under modernity, but at one moment or another, they had to adapt to it or perish. Many of them perished and had to abdicate in Europe during or after World War I*.

That's my point today. People should adopt the new revolution without trying to standardize censorship, CPRM and other follies.

*To anybody who is curious to understand World War I to the fullest, I highly recommend The First World War by John Keegan.

Your comments are welcomed.

Michael Munger is a French Canadian living in Montreal. He discovered the Mac in 1994 while studying journalism, the profession he loves and practices. He also studied history and communications. In addition to his work at The Mac Observer, he authors the iBasics tutorial column at Low End Mac, and cofounded MacSoldiers in 1998.

You can find more about him at his personal Web site.

You are welcome to send me your comments or you can post them below.

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