Hard drive copy-protection scheme planned

— 12:01 AM on December 21, 2000

This really, really shouldn't happen, but The Register's report looks like the real thing. They've even confirmed it with IBM. Big Brother is moving into the ATA interface in a big way:

The proposals are already at an advanced stage: three drafts have already been discussed for incorporating CPRM (Content Protection for Recordable Media) into the ATA specification by the NCTIS T.13 committee. The committee next meets in February. If, as expected, the CPRM extensions become part of the ATA specification, copyright protection will be in every industry-standard hard disk by next summer, according to IBM.
Apparently, the copy-protection scheme encrypts data written to drives, while each drive gets a unique identifier. Rendered useless by the new drives: image copy programs like Norton Ghost, backup programs, disk-to-disk copies, and transfers of data from protected drives to non-protected drives—depending, of course, upon the wishes of content providers. ("Content providers" would include everything from music companies to software houses, near as I can tell.) Drive fail? You'll have to connect to a central server to retrieve your data.

On a philosophical front, this sounds like both a massive hassle and a sweeping, unwelcome intrusion into our personal business. For the better part of my lifetime, first the PC and then the Internet represented a broadening of individual horizons in ways we could almost create just by imagining them. Such a draconion hard drive copy-protection scheme would be the beginning of the end of the PC's unique role as an all-purpose enabling technological tool.

No, really.

On a practical front, the likelihood of hardware copy-protection succeeding seems rather low. In order for it to really suceed, all types of digital media would have to adhere to such standards. And the scheme would have to be air-tight, or it'd get busted open like a rock-filled pinata in a crack house. (As I type, instant messages are coming in suggesting ways around it: "just do a zip-2 or rar-3 and encrypt whatever." True.) Not to mention that this kind of thing would be a huge, splitting headache for consumers and corporate IT departments alike.

Long and short of it: The benefits would be grossly outweighed by the problems such a scheme would create, for both hard drive manufacters and their customers. Does that mean it won't happen? Heck, no. Best buckle up. We may be in for a fight.

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