The Null Device

Plugging the Analogue Hole and other obscene propositions

Hollywood's next power grab over your computer and digital rights: requiring watermark detectors in all analogue-digital converters; i.e., a gatekeeping mechanism ensuring that the digital domain is securely locked down. Needless to say, if they get this through (and they stand a good chance of doing so), it could mean the end of actually useful general-purpose computers and technologies which can be creatively adapted to new purposes. (They can't have that, you see, in case someone adapts them to a purpose that violates their (new, expanded) copyrights, or otherwise puts them out of pocket.)

Which could be disastrous. The technology of steam power was discovered in ancient Greece, but not developed because it didn't fit with the mores of the time, and remained unknown until the Industrial Revolution. Several hundred years ago, the Chinese came close to sailing to Europe and the New World. They had the technology, but turned back by Imperial decree. And now our corporate emperors want to kill off innovation to protect the valuable conditions of scarcity on which their power and wealth are founded.

In short, such a régime has the potential to impede technological development by decades if not centuries. (And the consequences will be felt all over Earth, especially if backed up with US military power, which is backed up with US economic power, which depends on "global stability". If the New Zealanders or Indonesians or someone develop an unencumbered bit-shuffling device industry, watch the high-energy particle beams from Fort Kissinger, high earth orbit, vapourise the offending facilities as if they were Iraqi penicillin factories.)

There are 7 comments on "Plugging the Analogue Hole and other obscene propositions":

Posted by: Buster Hihmenn Fri May 24 20:21:06 2002

Interesting, I had never heard of this guy Heron in Alexandria who invented the steam engine as a toy apparently.

The Chinese may have made it to the Americas based on some anchors found of off the California coast and various inscriptions but I doubt they did circumnavigate the globe as was recently propsed.

But is technology really that easy to squelch? Can they stop every bedroom hacker and basement coder? I can still share mp3s despite the RIAA.

Posted by: Jimbob Sat May 25 00:37:08 2002

I think it will more likely put a freeze on hardware upgrades than actually stifle innovation. The technology exists at present to do whatever D/A conversion I like on my home PC. No-one going to come storming into my house to take away my computer, so I can simply use it to do whatever conversions I want (ie. ripping a Church bootleg I recorded from Minidisc to Mp3 like I'm doing right this minute). If new PCs (or any digital device) can't do this, I do believe comsumers won't want to buy them, because ripping / burning / copying is NOT a geek activity, it's a bog-standard computer user activity (ie. ripping / encoding features in Windows Media Player / iMac that are being advertised to the general public). People stop buying hardware / software upgrades, computer industry collapses, laws are repealed.

Posted by: Graham Sat May 25 01:17:45 2002

The problem is, it's not the computer industry that's behind this, aside from a few Vichy firms such as Microsoft and Intel, it's the entertainment industry.

Posted by: Hobbes http:// Sat May 25 04:44:35 2002

It is a good think watermarking analog signals doesn't work very well. Still, this is absurd. I can see the market for home-made "pirate" sound and video capture cards that would spring up if this ever became a reality, consigning another huge chunk of the American populous to be criminals.

Posted by: acb Sat May 25 09:04:14 2002

Stopping upgrades may be impractical, due to built-in obsolescence. Computer components aren't built to last, because they're assumed to end up in the landfill within 5 years whether they work or not; therefore, they use cheaper components (such as capacitors rated for lower temperatures only, which don't last forever on a modern motherboard); consequently, computer components tend to die.

How much gear from 5 years ago do you have that still works? My Gravis UltraSound started misbehaving a few years ago, and I've had motherboards go flaky. This may push consumers to buy DRM-crippled PCs, or it may inspire an underground reconditioning industry, like with Cadillacs in Cuba.

Posted by: sam Sun May 26 08:58:21 2002

this really does beg the question "do they know what they're talking about?". there's no way that they will be able to get every manufacturer out there to put this 'watermark' rubbish into their circuitry. and if they do, it's not going to stop anyone from building a/d or d/a circuits themselves from discrete components (resistors, transistors, etc).

Posted by: acb Sun May 26 09:12:49 2002

But building one which can convert a high-frequency signal (i.e., a video image or such) at good quality isn't easy; and if you cannot legally sell it or distribute the schematics, few people will do it. The Mafia/Triads/Yakuza will have them, of course, and have A-D geeks on retainer, but the average shmo won't.

Though the system won't work; you can always mung the signal in the analogue domain, digitise it and then unmung it. I.e., use a RF transmitter to convert it to a RF signal and a software radio to unconvert it. I doubt the MPAA-mandated gatekeeper chips will detect watermarks in copyrighted radio spectra.

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