Friday, 8 June 2012

DisplayPort and piracy

On my new computer at work I am using two monitors connected via DisplayPort cables to the video card. I was poking around the video settings, getting everything arranged to my liking, when I noticed the "content protection" tab. It was just a status indicator, basically, containing a diagram of my monitor and the cable, saying "content protected" with a big green tick to let me know that it's okay, don't panic, the content is protected. Of course I breathed a big, sarcastic sigh of relief, because finally I have monitors and cables with content protection. All those years of using unprotected content had been weighing heavily on my soul.

The problem with this little status display is philosophical, and it probably won't affect me. The questions to ask about it are these: whose content is this, and from what is it protected? It's (usually) not "my" content. It's Windows, YouTube, GMail and so on, but also all the programs I write myself. The next question is more sinister. The content on my monitors is being protected from me. When a computer has to be designed to treat its primary user as if that user has malicious intent, something has started to go wrong. When the desires of Hollywood have greater influence on the design of electronics components than the desires of the customers who will buy them or even the companies who manufacture and sell them, something has definitely gone way off course. HDCP does not belong on everyone's computers just to try and Stop The Pirates. That's stupid, and it's certainly not going to work. There will be two kinds of people who notice this content protection. The first kind is trying to do something legitimate with their legitimate content when the protection scheme fails and locks them out. Those people have a broken computer for no reason. The second type of person who notices is a pirate, who will work around the protection scheme and continue pirating as if nothing had happened. That person does not have the broken computer that Hollywood wants him to have. Two failures, and piracy still present. Double fail, even though they changed the entire consumer electronics industry according to their fears. Surely they can't consider that a win?

Mokalus of Borg

PS - When you imagine a movie executive saying "pirates", you have to imagine wide eyes, hands in the air, running in circles and screaming.
PPS - Also, the DisplayPort cables seem to prevent Windows from remembering the correct monitor resolutions for me. So there's that, too.

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