April 23, 2024


Cory Doctorow writes on Cruelty to Analog about an MPAA presentation to the ARDG, the group that is trying to bring Digital Restrictions Management (DRM) to analog content.

The presentation talks about a “rounding problem” that arises because of an assumption that analog DRM is unable to micromanage the use of content to the same degree that digital DRM can. When a work is converted from digital to analog form, the detailed DRM restrictions from the digital domain are supposed to be “rounded off” to some roughly equivalent analog restrictions, so that “equivalence” can be maintained between the digital and analog domains. A fight is brewing over whether to “round down” (so that the analog rules are more restrictive than the digital) or to “round up” (so that the analog rules are looser than the digital).

This debate is a wonderful illustration of how far off the rails the DRM “standardization” groups have gone. Rather than worrying about the lack of any effective digital DRM scheme, or about the lack of any effective analog DRM scheme, the group chooses instead to just assume that both exist, and to further assume that the two are incompatible. They then proceed to argue about the consequences of that incompatibility. Rather than arguing about strategy for resolving a hypothetical incompatibility between two hypothetical products, why not worry first about whether analog DRM can work at all?

There is a well-known pathology in standardization processes, in which the group argues obsessively over some trivial detail which becomes a proxy for deeper philosophical disagreements. The antidote is for somebody to yank the group back to reality by pointing out all of the deployed products that operate perfectly well without accounting for that detail. But this antidote only works when there are deployed systems that are known to work well. Perhaps it is inevitable that if you try to standardize a conjectural product category, you will become hopelessly entangled in minutiae.