Thursday, January 06, 2005

DRM, proprietary file formats, and what to do about it all...

So, you're Microsoft or Apple, and you've decided to implement digital rights management, or proprietary file formats that attempt to lock your clients into solutions that suck(TM) -- either quality or cash.

You can continue to tighten the screws, but here's something maybe you didn't consider. Maybe the folks on the Internet that are tired of your BS will simply peer to peer around your garbage take on it all. Maybe they will set up something like the SETI at home project (Search for extra-terrestrial life -- a distributed screen saver that churned through data looking for intelligence in the noise of it all).

I've got a suggestion for one of these applications -- how about a DRM/proprietary file format buster. It's an application that receives either an entire proprietary file or a DRM-protected chunk of a file, and converts it from its native junk format to one that can be read by anything.

For example, you've just gotten a file in Microsoft Turd(TM) format, and it needs to be converted to something you can read in your word-processor. You don't have Turd(TM), so you send it out to distributed buster, and one of the many clients out there that have the latest version of Turd(TM), loads it and saves it as a non-proprietary file. Or if it's something lame like a windows movie file format, it uses a free application that leverages the player libraries to load and convert the file to some free file format -- and sends it back. Suddenly, the whole "we'll lock you into this for life" thing starts to look a bit lame.

The whole pain of proprietary file formats is the hell it takes to reverse engineer the front end security features -- with something like this, people that have idle computers and broadband join this network and do file conversion. The whole thing is controlled by pay-pal, with people that need the conversion contributing to the people loaning their computers (and the proprietary libraries that are loaded on them).

Any reverse engineering here? Nope, the library calls are direct from the code loaded by the Windows installer when it made its way onto the hard drive. Any rights violated? As long as the peer doesn't keep a copy of the file on it's hard drive when done (oh, that'd never happen), the digital content would still be the possession of the original owner -- just in a different format. The law might still be violated because of the way it is written, regardless. IANAL.

Now the down side to something like this would be the fact that the incoming files might contain some viral code that exploits security holes in said libraries (yeah, like that's going to happen -- we all know how _hard_ Microsoft has been working on their security posture of late).

Given the pay-pal connection, it might be somewhat controllable. In any case, it's an interesting idea.

1 comment:

Kenneth said...

Very clever idea. Need a PDF? Need something unzpped? Want a BMP to be a GIF? would be awesome. Interface merely needs to have user identify input type and output type. A simple dtatbase somewhere that records what apps can translate what into what could translate the request into a search for certain apps. Then P2P it out to find one of the target apps...

Big hole is the security problem. I dont think I'd let my Word open files from strangers and save them as something else. I have no ideas on how to fix that one...

Great idea, though.