April 23, 2024

Report from the ACM DRM Workshop

Yesterday I attended the ACM “Digital Rights Management” Workshop in Washington DC. There were about 100 attendees, most of them computer scientists, with a few lawyers and Washington policy types thrown in. Papers from the workshop are available online.

My main impression was that the speakers were more openly skeptical about DRM than at past conferences. I don’t think this represents any real change in opinion. The real cause, in my view, is that industrial researchers are now starting to say in public what they would only say in private before.

The skepticism about watermarking was especially strong. One speaker described a simple attack that apparently can defeat essentially all state-of-the-art watermarking methods. Another speaker’s paper says

Proposals for systems involving mandatory watermark detection in rendering devices try to impact the effectiveness of [file sharing systems]…. In addition to severe commercial and social problems, these schemes suffer from several technical deficiencies, which, in the presence of an effective [file sharing system], lead to their complete collapse. We conclude that such schemes are doomed to failure.