Issue 222, June 11, 2001  

Copy Protection: A Bad Idea That
Won't Go Away

By Stephen M. Lawton

      "Defile not this fortress. Defend this smear in time." Robert B. Mitchell, a Tarzana, CA-based jazz pianist, actor and recreational writer penned those epic words in an unpublished 1971 short story. But they could easily be the mantra of the music industry today,which is once again trying to add copy protection to stop the flow of music, digital and analog.
       Can it be that some people just don't get it? Copy protection doesn't work. Users hate it and will do anything they can to get around it. And, by the way, this doesn't necessarily mean they want to steal the intellectual property — they simply don't like copy protection.
      Just ask the folks over at Lotus Development Corp., who tried as hard as they could to stop the duplication of their beloved Lotus 1-2-3 in the 1980s. Rather than hurting the sales of the venerable spreadsheet, the bootleg copies turned newbies into true believers and sent sales of 1-2-3 through the roof, concurrently turning it into the first real PC software superstar.
      Lotus, like other companies of the early '80s, was unsuccessful in its attempts to stop the illegal copying of its software. Copy protection created a cottage business in building applications to break these schemes — and indeed copy protection on software is dead — sort of. Microsoft's approach is to limit the number of times you can install the program, while Novell's strategy is to count the number of users connected to the NetWare server, then limit access to new users. And Quark Inc.'s QuarkXpress looks for duplicate serial numbers on the network. But traditional copy protection is indeed dead.
      The music industry tried, and failed, to be even more devious. Instead of just copy-protecting a song the way some videotape makers copy-protect a movie, a music industry group called the 4C Entity tried to copy-protect an entire disk drive.
      This latest attempt was shut down by the National Committee on Information Technology Standards (NCITS), a standards body that voted recently to reject the industry's plan to put its Content Protection for Recordable Media (CPRM) technology onto hard drives. (For more on this, check out Jim Carr's Standards Watch column this month right here in the Outlook section.)
      The folks that want to share content are becoming even more insidious. Just days before music legend Charlie Pride was about to release his latest CD — which, incidentally includes a copy-protection scheme — tracks from the album appeared on the Net. Let's face it folks: Copy protection simply does not work.
      Even with all the hot-shot attorneys trying to sink content-sharing sites, these folks seem to have found a way to survive. The next step, it appears, is to try to lock out the technology. It's "kill the messenger" time again.

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