LONDON--Coming down hard and fast on any organization that threatens technological liberty is an ancient geek pastime of unusual ferocity. Last December the U.K.-based online news service The Register broke the story that a consortium of companies--Intel, IBM, Toshiba and Matsushita--were plotting to include a scheme known as content protection for recordable media (CPRM) in the next-generation standard for computer hard disks. The companies responded almost immediately by saying that the scheme was intended to apply only to removable media, not to fixed hard disks. It seems clear, however, that the idea is indeed at least being considered by the technical committee that decides the hard-disk standard. Given that the firms behind the plan also invented the regional encoding that prevents a DVD made for one part of the world from playing in another, techies are worried. They fear that the result would be crippled, generic, mass-market hardware, its technology bent to accommodate financial interests.
The difference is that mass-market electronics devices are typically sealed boxes. CD recorders, MiniDisc players and DVD machines are not devices that end users generally can program. For probably most consumers, the same is (sadly) true of computers. But this most versatile of tools is always partly open.
This article was originally published with the title To Protect and Self-Serve.