March 7, 2021

Lessig/DRM/End-To-End Debate: Resolved?

Larry Lessig and I had a brief blog-discussion last week about the meaning of the end-to-end principle(s), and how end-to-end applies to DRM. The discussion continued off-line, and we ended up in pretty close agreement. Here is my version of what we agree on:

(1) End-to-end is not a single principle, but a cluster of related principles. Some are engineering principles, and others are policy/economic principles. It is good to be clear about what version of end-to-end you are using.

(2) The MPAA/Hollings approach does harm by forcing all computers to implement certain functions, even though those functions are not needed by all law-abiding network users. This violates the engineering end-to-end principle that says that functions should not be required unless needed by all.

(3) The MPAA/Hollings approach does even more harm by forbidding a great many non-infringing functions from being implemented at all. This offends both engineering and policy versions of the end-to-end principle, all of which favor giving end users flexibility in how they use the network.

(4) DRM is generally a bad idea, but some DRM systems are worse than others.