I recently met with the Chief Technology Officer of a big media company about something called the “analog hole.” The analog hole, as its called by that industry, is the vulnerability of a digital asset to piracy when it passes into the analog world – a digital camera can be used to take a picture of a copyrighted picture, for example. Or a digital camera can record a movie in a theater. He wanted to talk to me about supporting legislation that would mandate proprietary technology to detect invisible watermarks on content to stop its duplication or redistribution – no watermark, no playback (or distribution). From his vantage point, this would ensure he and his peers in the industry would be fairly compensated for their content, and pirates could be kept at bay. Legislation would mandate such a technology be included in all “computers and computing devices” with analog inputs or outputs (try to think of a device that escapes).
Rather than provide a response in the room, I turned a question back to him. First, the network you’re supposing will deliver a movie to a theater or a camera to a file server is the same network I’m presuming will run throughout your datacenter. On the internet, it’s tough to distinguish a feature length movie from a data warehouse application (bits is bits) – so would your datacenter folks support the tech industry certifying content behind your firewalls with a digital watermark? In running business systems?
Thinking as a blogger, whose rights are we seeking to protect? In the Participation Age, individuals are as likely to create the news as consume it. Maybe moreso. We saw this in London, where individuals were media outlets. (Paul Graham has a few interesting thoughts.) I, like millions of others, now produce, and distribute, movies from my phone (yes, the quality leaves something to be desired, but more due to a lack of artistic prowess than image fidelity).
So any attention, scrutiny or governance surrounding digital media would have to comprehend not only the teenager in the movie theater scenario, but the reciprocal extension of those models to the digital assets and platforms produced by companies like Sun Microsystems, Inc. (whose software distribution models are moving toward free and freely copyable), as well as those of “Schwartz Productions, Inc.” (and the blogosphere, more generally – where economic interests are as varied as network end points).
On the former question, related to DRM in the datacenter, he said he’d run it up the flagpole with his IT folks and get back to me.
After a few days, I got a response. He’d spoken with their CIO, who dismissed the relevance of my proposal to manage all digital assets under the same scheme. “You’d have to start by proving I’ve stolen something.”
Hm. Sure wouldn’t want a double standard.