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Re: L4-hurd Digest, Vol 40, Issue 24

From: C Y
Subject: Re: L4-hurd Digest, Vol 40, Issue 24
Date: Tue, 2 May 2006 20:09:47 -0700 (PDT)

> From: Bas Wijnen <address@hidden>

> > On Tue, May 02, 2006 at 01:44:43PM -0700, C Y wrote:
> > I should say I personally would not suggest that an OS prohibit
> > any possibility of DRM, since I doubt my own ability to certify
> > that there is no legimitate use for it, but that's just a personal
> > opinion.  There are an incredibly large number of uses for
> > computers, and the search space for use cases is beyond easy
> > determination.  
> I agree that there may be legitimate cases, given the size of the 
> search space.  However, we know there are harmful cases, and 
> currently we haven't seen any legitimate cases that are big enough
> to support in a general-purpose operating system.  This means that
> on the short term, the only good effect of implementing such a
> feature is that it might speed up research and a legitimate case may
> be found sooner.  On the other hand, it is certainly harmful to
> implement it.  For that reason, I think it is a very bad idea to
> implement DRM in the system if we can at all avoid it.

I'm a bit hesitant to propose this scenario since it has a "doomsday"
quality to it, but I think it should at a minimum be considered and

The USA is one of the major centers for computer usage and research
(disclaimer - I'm in the US).  Let's suppose that, in spite of efforts
to oppose it, a law is passed in the US which has the effect of
requiring all tools capable of digital manipulation of data to support
effective DRM measures.  In this scenario, if free software isn't
outlawed outright, it will find itself in a situation where the
hardware itself will refuse to run any OS which is unable to guarantee
protection.  If GNU HURD is designed to prohibit any possibility of
effective DRM, this would seem to mean that there will be some kind of
fundamental incompatibility between GNU HURD and US law.  DRM in such a
scenario becomes not a semi-useful-maybe-harmful feature but a basic
requirement under the law.

What worries me the most is that if HURD fundamentally cannot support
DRM in a technical sense it may find itself in the same legal position
in the US as software license cracks and other such programs.  DRM in
the sense that it is being proposed in the US seems to be largely a
social issue, and if the decision is made by society to support DRM
what happens?  I suppose the USA could become a Free-Software-free (or
at least HURD free) zone, but that would be a rather unfortunate

I appreciate the GNU foundation's taking strong stances on such issues,
but to me I guess this is much more of a social issue than a technical
one.  Look at the current "it is illegal to circumvent a copy
protection measure" nonsense in the US. In my view, if DRM is not a
social issue then there is no harm in the technical capability being
implicit in the OS design - in a few cases it might be useful.  If it
IS a social issue precluding its implementation in the OS design will
convince no one, and in more gloomy scenarios it means the HURD will be
cut off from participation in future computational deployments.  Dr.
Shapiro has done a tremendous amount of work on systems that promise to
revolutionize the way we think about things like reliability and
security (I particularly like the idea of formal verification and
certification) and my bias is to support the most robust, advanced
designs possible.  Eliminating abilities based on social issues is not
worth sacrificing design ideas IMHO - you never know when you might
need some ability, and the potential to abuse any tool exists so long
as the will to abuse it does.  Look at it this way - if most of the
situations where one wants to run a car at 100 miles per hour on the
highway are either very rare or illegal, does that mean we should build
cars that can only drive at a maximum of 65mph?  Personally I prefer to
know that my car CAN do 100+, even if I personally never need to do it
and the ability is dangerous when misused.

Anyway.  Opinions on this matter from the quasi-informed are a dime a
dozen, so I apologize if I strayed too far off topic.  The meat of my
concern is "can HURD survive in the US if DRM becomes mandated, and is
it a problem if it can't?"


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