[E-Lang] OpenCola's digital rights management

Mark S. Miller markm@caplet.com
Thu, 25 Jan 2001 15:16:37 -0800

At 05:53 PM Wednesday 1/24/01, hal@finney.org wrote:
>Will their associat[ion] with Mark Miller and their plans to move to a
>capability based system make them rethink their approach to DRM?

While the details have yet to be worked out, I'm pleased to report that the 
answer so far looks to be a resounding YES.

openCOLA practices the openness it preaches to an astonishing extent.  As a 
result, when I told John Henson (founder & CTO) about Hal's message, he said 
"great".  When I expressed puzzlement, he said "we don't want to be wrong -- 
it's great to be corrected."  When I asked if I could share with the e-lang 
list the current thinking (since the writing of the polemic Hal responded 
to), he said "sure".  Although we open source folk may all understand why 
these were the only rational answers, let's also remember how few 
corporations would have elected to be so rational about these issues.

Early in my visit up here at the openCOLA head offices in Toronto, Dan 
presented me their "two cloud" model -- legit and illegit.  I explained why 
this couldn't possibly work, for many of the reasons Hal just reiterated.  
(In many ways, Hal also put it better, but we're singing the same tune.)  
Dan and I played out some hypothetical adversarial games, which resulted in 
Dan being rapidly convinced.

We then pulled in Henson went through the same process again, and rapidly 
convinced him as well.

At a later meeting with Henson and Cory Doctorow (founder, chief evangelist, 
& award winning science fiction author), and in meetings with Debbie Gamble 
(VP of financial transactions), and others, we went back over the 
impossibility of copy protection, whether realized InterTrust-style or 
two-cloud style. Impressively, most everyone knew of the Kelsey/Schneier 
Street Performer Protocol http://www.firstmonday.dk/issues/issue4_6/kelsey/ 
and understood the logic behind its argument.

Everyone accepted, even if reluctantly, that revenues for content must, long 
term, descend to the levels that can be supported by Street-Performer-like 
arrangements.  These will probably be vastly lower than current revenues for 
content, since Street-Performer-like arrangements have an inescapable free 
rider problem.

We also went through the distinction between "self revealing media" and 
"encapsulated media".  The above uncomfortable conclusions apply only to 
self revealing media, which includes books, movies, music, etc.  These are 
media whose bits can only deliver value to the customer by revealing the 
bits to the customer.  Encapsulated media can use the bits they contain to 
provide value without revealing these bits.

Programs are the main example of non-self revealing media, and for these, 
scarcity-based revenues could be sustained long term.  In today's world, the 
main media-entertainment example is a game.  The unique ability of 
encapsulated media to generate revenues may eventually lead to new forms of 
interactive media, such as a jazz improvisationist program rather than a 
jazz album, but only after a few dozen Kubricks have had a few hundred 
brilliant insights.

(The great irony is that business models not based around information 
scarcity have been explored first for programs, where, in theory at least, 
one could maintain scarcity-based levels of revenue. The open source 
industry, including openCOLA, are the pioneers in looking for these 
non-information-scarcity business models in order to gain revenue for their 
own artistic creation -- programs.  If it's good enough for them, why not 
their customers?)

Nevertheless, in the current world, for whatever reason, there are still 
vast revenues to be had for self-revealing content.  A logical case that 
this will disappear does little to give us any sense for how quickly it will 
disappear (my own estimate: anywhere from one to twenty years).  While this 
source of revenue remains, openCOLA is in a good position to capitalize on 
it, and use it to fund the development of a 
DRM/erights/title/deed/smart-contracting system that will continue to have 
value in a world without revenue for content.

Once this source of revenue starts to drop precipitously, we need to quickly 
switch to a non-content-based business model, such as one based on 
smart-contracts applied to another realm.  Therefore we need to build a 
business that will be able to switch when the time comes.

It is a testament to the open mindedness I found here that this disruptive 
message was so well and quickly received.  It is a testament to their 
openness that I can tell y'all the tale, and that they would value criticism 
and feedback.