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7/11/2007
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A Behind-The-Scenes Look At How DRM Becomes Law

Cory Doctorow looks at the back room dealing that allowed entertainment companies and electronics companies to craft public policy on digital rights management.

But the spirit of the Broadcast Flag lives on. DRM consortia are all the rage now -- outfits like AACS LA, the folks who control the DRM in Blu-Ray and HD-DVD, are thriving and making headlines by issuing fatwas against people who publish their secret integers. In Europe, a DRM consortium working under the auspices of the Digital Video Broadcasters Forum (DVB) has just shipped a proposed standard for digital TV DRM that makes the Broadcast Flag look like the work of patchouli-scented infohippies. The DVB proposal would give DRM consortium the ability to define what is and isn't a valid "household" for the purposes of sharing your video within your "household's devices." It limits how long you're allowed to pause a video for, and allows for restrictions to be put in place for hundreds of years, longer than any copyright system in the world would protect any work for.

If all this stuff seems a little sneaky, underhanded and even illegal to you, you're not alone. When representatives of nearly all the world's entertainment, technology, broadcast, satellite and cable companies gather in a room to collude to cripple their offerings, limit their innovation, and restrict the market, regulators take notice.

That's why the EU is taking a hard look at HD-DVD and Blu-Ray. These systems aren't designed: they're governed, and the governors are shadowy group of offshore giants who answer to no one -- not even their own members! I once called the DVD-Copy Control Association (DVD-CCA) on behalf of a Time-Warner magazine, Popular Science, for a comment about their DRM. Not only wouldn't they allow me to speak to a spokesman, the person who denied my request also refused to be identified.

The sausage factory grinds away, but today, more activists than ever are finding ways to participate in the negotiations, slowing them up, making them account for themselves to the public. And so long as you, the technology-buying public, pay attention to what's going on, the activists will continue to hold back the tide.

Cory Doctorow is co-author of the Boing Boing blog, as well as a journalist, Internet activist, and science fiction writer. Read his previous InformationWeek columns.

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