Sunday, January 27, 2008

We won't always have Paris

While sitting at home pondering the future I considered what form DRM (Digital Rights Management) and copyright may take in years to come.

Technology always continues to improve and be what was once the province of huge corporations and countries are made more accessible to the average consumer. The old ways of recording events are rapidly being phased out. As gears and switches in the telephone are no longer utilized soon actual film may be a thing of the past. Perhaps this is the last generation that will actually expose light to an emulsion to make a photograph except for the historical hobbyist.

So with the recording of digital media and the fact that the average person can easily manipulate complex data what will become prominent in the after-market of the future will be the demands of businesses and governments to control information and ensure revenue sources by protecting intellectual properties. This already exists in one form in regards to music and DRM and is the reason I will not purchase some brands of music players. I support the spirit of copyright and disagree with those who believe that anything once created is free or can be copied and mass-produced for profit without compensation to the creator. I can get behind DRM, EULA, trademarks and copyright. That is, within reason. I have about 400 compact discs and even more DVDs that I have purchased over the last 15 years and I refuse to let any person or company dictate where and when I can listen to them and in what format. I routinely copy movies to my laptop or music to my player and watch and listen to them in a more convenient format when out and about. It is one thing to watch a movie during lunch on a park bench and an entirely different matter to make copies of Good Luck Chuck and sell them at a swap meet or hand them out to the entire office where you work. If companies no longer sell a product and instead intend only to lease it temporarily then they should quit dancing around the subject and just take that position. Tell the buyer the rules flat out instead of misleading the consumer by letting them believe they actually own what they just purchased.

So I have imagined that copyright law in the future will be even more restrictive and probably applied to ridiculous levels in an always connected, online and on-demand electronic world. Currently DRM or copyright is applied when the content is created. In the future it may be applied before something actually exists.

I imagine that soon technology will be available, and then the inevitable law, that would require all recording devices to access a license database of copyrighted material prior to allowing the photograph or video to be successfully recorded. In the near future all image recording devices could be required to determine if the the image or subject in the selected scene was protected by copyright or was restricted in some way. Anyone attempting to take a photograph of a work of art, something in public venue or some other media or subject that is otherwise protected would find their attempts blocked by the software of the recording device. Even today with little effort and varying success commonly available software can analyze a digital image for content such as in facial or shape recognition or in use for comparison for differences between images.

The future camera loaded with restrictive software would otherwise function normally, but the software would block and spoil the image for the user unless a fee is paid to the owner of the copyrighted subject or an EULA is strictly adhered to.

The recording device would simply not capture an image if something restricted by copyright is anywhere in the image field.

I could understand the use of this technology in protecting works of art, documents, company or government secrets and the like. The extreme power of repeated camera flashes can result in a fading of paint and inks, destroying precious art, movies would be recorded by small cameras in theaters for the purposes of bootlegging and bad people could take photographs of military installations in pursuit of nefarious deeds.

While the technology would be deployed in the interest of protecting intellectual and actual property it would of course be abused rather quickly.

Some legal department somewhere would claim that the image of a Torrey Pine that has existed for centuries on a San Diego bluff in a protected National Park was their intellectual property because a stylized image of it is on their company letterhead. Future DRM would prevent visitors or Forest Rangers from taking photos and documenting the tree for posterity or health management. The legal fight to determine the ownership of the image of the tree could drag through the courts for years. As I was just reminded, something similar actually occurred in regards to a Californian Cyprus tree several years ago.

As actually happened, the Steel Bean sculpture in Chicago was considered copyrighted and no one was allowed to take photos of it. People were routinely harassed and threatened if they posed with or took a photo of the publicly-funded sculpture. Future DRM of the kind required for digital recording devices I have imagined would ensure a poor photo of the sculpture. Unless the tourist forked over a fee to to the City of Chicago to release (temporarily?) the rights to create a special memory then their visit will be disappointing and an unhappy girlfriend will result.

Typically, as history has shown when money is involved, everyone wants a piece of the action. So the software and database would be enforced to extremes and nearly everything would be restricted against general use by the public for some reason or another.

So much for liberty.
We won't always have Paris.

A lovely sunset. Or was it? I let my annual subscription with the Desplay Inc. photo pool lapse!

There are even times when some governments and businesses claim events are copyrighted and cannot be recorded without permission. Of course, they will never allow anyone to obtain that license to reveal the details of any event they wish suppressed.

Imagine how differently some events would have played out in the world media if the future DRM software was available now to stop a bunch of poorly led soldiers from using their cellphone cameras?

Good luck getting that software patch from the government of Darfur.

Genocide? What genocide? You have no proof!

Of course while the blocking software would be a boon to government agencies seeking to control the flow of information to the public, there will always be the inevitable errors and over-enthusiastic application and it is usually to the detriment of mankind. An oversight by failing to obtain the proper licenses will block the Hubble telescope from capturing a once-in-a-billion-year celestial event. Oops! Sorry, the Universe will just have to keep its secrets just a bit longer!

Careless application of the database and poor maintenance will inevitably cause tactical setbacks in the battlefield of tomorrow.
As the role of high technology continues to increase the license database of allowable copyrighted images may not be updated at the same frenetic pace as war operations. Terrorists could list their facilities as copyrighted and international law would not allow the other country to access satellite or public images to plan attacks or mount a defense. The scene as viewed via the digital recording devices of gun cameras and guided missiles may be blocked by the database and the success of the precision air strike would be in doubt. All due to shoddy customer service and failure to renew the licensing subscription by the client.

If the eager cameras cameras of the Paparazzi were to be denied taking photos of copyrighted celebrities then there would be fewer incidents of road rage, mishaps and tragic accidents.

Yet by using the future DRM the publicity-hungry celebrity would gain some control over the use of their image.
Any incident that would possibly gain them positive or or negative publicity would be managed with greater success by restricting the use of the image until a deal is made to send revenue their way or even to stop publication of the image entirely.


The media would love the future DRM and next to the government be the biggest client of the software. Revenue would pour in with the control of their news images as affiliates and websites pay to unlock photos and videos for viewing. That is, until some company or individual decides that a negative story needs to be censored by blocking an image connecting their product to their misdeeds.
Then of course the media would wring their collective hands and cry about censorship, ignoring that they themselves are some of the greatest violators of free speech, open dialog and have long given up any right to claims of journalistic integrity.

As usual, only the average consumer will be inconvenienced in any way. The future DRM that I imagine will of course not hinder the tech-savvy any more than the restrictive attempts on digital media do today. Digital recording devices will be illegally modified and software will be hacked to provide images unhindered by the wishes of the copyright holders. An entire underground movement over being able to freely view the objects of the real world will be created, diligently working in the shadows to bring an unrestricted reality into the light.

11 comments:

  1. Wow. Great post and a lot to think about.

    Although I'm not sure something that would digitially block images of Britney's hoo-ha would be a bad thing.

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  2. Preach it brother and/or sister!

    I can hardly wait for the day when every person, place and thing are tagged with some kind of RFID chip that blurs or blocks to-be images or potential photos that are unapproved by various DRM groups and the gubmint.

    Great blog!

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  3. heh-heh-heh... That's about ten frames too long a run for the WARNING gag, but I get the point, and I hear ya!

    Unrelated request: I noticed one of your earlier posts (http://thatsmyskull.blogspot.com/2007/07/my-loot-let-me-show-you-it.html#links) featured strike-through type on the opening phrase "a couple weeks". Tell me, willya, how to do that? There used to be a clickable feature for it in one of my word processors, but I can't remember which one or whether I have it anymore... There must be a really simple universal method, right?

    ps- I think you're a strange and interesting blogger, and I'm linking to you on my blog (http://drifty-sez.blogspot.com) if you don't mind.

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  4. Most interesting. Have written about this blogicle at
    http://www.managingrights.com/2008/02/drm-and-public.html

    best

    Bob

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  5. Time to get me a Patent Attorney!

    Not the first time.

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  6. This is essentially an outline for a novel every bit as unsettling as "Brave New World": the concept of ownership taken to its ultimate extreme. Chips that prevent you from seeing or imagining things that you haven't paid for. Or why bother with chips? Just tweak the genome and you've got hacker-proof DRM. And who'll say no? Just a bunch of freeloaders who don't want to pay fair market value for the intellectual effort of others. Buncha commies.

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  7. "That is, within reason. I have about 400 compact discs and even more DVDs that I have purchased over the last 15 years and I refuse to let any person or company dictate where and when I can listen to them and in what format."

    I hate to burst your bubble here but, uhm, DVDs are completely DRM'd, you cant copy them without illegally circumventing CSS.

    So you know, legally, you cant play your DVDs on anything except for MPAA approved players. and that means copying them to your laptop as well.

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  8. This would definately make older, used equipment without this technology higly desireable.

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  9. Intellectual property is a mind virus that will always tend to the maximum unless stopped in it's tracks.

    There are even suggestions that since we have brain scan technology now, maybe we could patent thought processes.

    There is a distinct possibility that experience itself is the ultimate possession to be coveted by corporations of the future.

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  10. Right now 'experience' is already compromised. Experience in the form of personal habits and internet tracking history.

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