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Will Microsoft control our information access?

By jaf, Section Opinion
Posted on Mon Jun 30th, 2003 at 03:50:29 PM EST
Digital Restrictions Management Technology (DRM) is perceived by most people as relating mostly to music and video. It is important to note that other formats, such as eBooks, are currently using DRM to restrict both access and fair use privileges. I am going to paint a fairly scary picture of how this technology might easily expand to cover all formats and all electronic information, and how it might do so with the blessing of John Q. Public.


Microsoft has started building DRM into most of its content tools - MS Player and MS Reader, for instance. Microsoft has devoted a large number of resources into DRM research, and owns large stakes in companies that hold patents in the DRM arena (such as ContentGuard).

Now imagen that Microsoft incorporates DRM into its office suite - MS Word, Powerpoint, Excel, etc. On the surface, this seems fine - the creator of a document can then have more control over the use of that document when it gets distributed. Except for the fact that by allowing any user to restrict document use in very narrow ways, fair use gets trodden upon. The amazing thing is that it won't be Microsoft who gets blamed; it will be the creator of the document who sets the access restrictions. MS Word will just be the vehicle of information slaughter.

The problem here is that Microsoft is providing users with a technology that, as its primary function, infringes on fair use. Of course, it won't be viewed that way - if it was, it would be token to the same constraints under the DMCA as software produced by ElmSoft. Microsoft is opening the door to a world where information restriction is the norm, and information access is a strict economic commodity (note: information access as the commodity, not information itself).

As if all of this isn't scary enough, look at Microsoft's plans for IE. They still see IE as the operating system front-end. They see it this way in part because it helps them have control over the entire information stream, from creation to viewable product. My guess is that seperate tools like Microsoft Reader and MS Player will be disappearing in the coming few years; Microsoft has put little into developing new features for MS Reader. Instead, all information access will be through the browser, Microsoft's browser, which will contain DRM technology built in. Now, you can go to a website, but you can't view the source code, and you can't print what appears on your screen, unless explicitly allowed by the website creator. You can't link to a website, unless explicitly allowed. Heck, you may not even be able to see the URL for the website, unless explicitly allowed. And in Microsoft's world, all information - HTML, video, sound, etc. gets viewed and used view the browser (and perhaps along with their office products).

So, is all this a certainty? Certainly not. Hopefully it is not a probibility. But it is a possibility - and we need to be aware of these types of possibilities. There is big business in information access, and those who control the access, in reality, control the information.

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Will Microsoft control our information access? | 5 comments (5 topical, 0 editorial, 0 pending) | Post A Comment
Yes, Microsoft Will (5.00 / 1) (#1)
by kcoyle on Thu Jul 3rd, 2003 at 01:17:58 PM EST
(User Info) http://www.kcoyle.net

Even scarier than DRM in IE is DRM in the operating system. And Microsoft not only is planning that with Palladium (see http://www.epic.org/privacy/consumer/microsoft/palladium.html), but they have a patent application on the technology that combines rights management and the operating system. (Which I once uncovered, the patent that is, and if I find it again I'll post the link here.)

At a two-day conference on DRM in Berkeley of the Samuelson's center for Technology and Law, cypherpunk speaker "Lucky Green" (an alias, of course, but then he's a cypherpunk, right?) defined "trusted computing" as trusting that your computer will obey the software manufacturers and not you, the computer's owner. It's beyond scary. It convinced me to install linux at home so I can wean myself off of M$. BTW, XP is just a hint of where Palladium is going and I'm convinced that XP is already spyware. Oh, and Palladium got such a bad rep that M$ has changed its name to some gobbledy-gook of letters and numbers so they can talk about it without us presumably knowing what it is.

And I'm not even talking about my more extreme paranoias here -- just the facts.

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What it will look like... (5.00 / 1) (#2)
by art on Thu Jul 3rd, 2003 at 05:25:00 PM EST
(User Info) http://www.uwindsor.ca/library/leddy/people/art

This screenshot gives a glimpse of DRM in day-to-day use. Sort of makes you wonder about the role of all those Gates labs in the grand scheme of things.

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Lessig (none / 0) (#3)
by Blake on Thu Jul 10th, 2003 at 06:34:12 AM EST
(User Info) http://lisnews.com

Lessig has written quite a bit on this topic, both his books should be require reading, though I'm only about half way through The Future Of Ideas, Code covers this topic very well. It takes me forever to read his stuff because I am constantly reading all the other stuff he points to, one book leads to about 50 others! Makes me wish I could read Harry Potter. "But it is not a great time, culturally, to come across revolutionary technologies. We are no more ready for this revolution than the Soviets were ready for theirs a decade ago. We, like the Soviets, have been caught by a revolution. But we, unlike they, have something to lose."

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Will Microsoft control our information access? | 5 comments (5 topical, 0 editorial, 0 pending) | Post A Comment
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