It's Thanksgiving week in the US, and most of our staff is focused on a morning coffee or Black Friday list rather than office work. As such, we're resurfacing this story of four Microsoft engineers who predicted the downfall of DRM more than a decade ahead of its time (their paper turned 15 this month). This story originally ran on November 30, 2012, and it appears unchanged below.
Can digital rights management technology stop the unauthorized spread of copyrighted content? Ten years ago this month, four engineers argued that it can't, forever changing how the world thinks about piracy. Their paper, "The Darknet and the Future of Content Distribution" (available as a .doc here) was presented at a security conference in Washington, DC, on November 18, 2002.
By itself, the paper's clever and provocative argument likely would have earned it a broad readership. But the really remarkable thing about the paper is who wrote it: four engineers at Microsoft whose work many expected to be at the foundation of Microsoft's future DRM schemes. The paper's lead author told Ars that the paper's pessimistic view of Hollywood's beloved copy protection schemes almost got him fired. But ten years later, its predictions have proved impressively accurate.