More on the Analog Hole

Michael Malkin, a CS grad student at Stanford, informs me that media files can be “watermarked” with a DRM code that will survive being played into an analog signal unless it is subjected to some degree of degradation. This would mean the copies, even if made by the real-time kludge I described in my earlier post will have protection that precludes their play except in DRM-protective equipment.

Accordingly, Michael says, it’s not possible to say at present that the analog hole is or is not certain to trump DRM. However, he adds, “the analog hole will still be a problem for content providers as long as most people have players without DRM. And I’m sure that if DRM becomes ubiquitous, hackers will start distributing programs to strip copy-protection from media and will start hosting DRM-free copies of media on their servers for download. The only way to make a serious dent would be for the companies who make all the hardware and operating systems to include DRM at all levels, so that there would be a

completely closed system.”

This is an important and dynamic area of technology to watch, with great risk of wrongheaded approaches incurring serious social and economic costs. In the policy/politics context, it’s significant because, to the degree that the music and video industry believes DRM can save their bacon, they will probably be resistant to policy reforms of the type I discussed here.

Author: Michael O'Hare

Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley, Michael O'Hare was raised in New York City and trained at Harvard as an architect and structural engineer. Diverted from an honest career designing buildings by the offer of a job in which he could think about anything he wanted to and spend his time with very smart and curious young people, he fell among economists and such like, and continues to benefit from their generosity with on-the-job social science training. He has followed the process and principles of design into "nonphysical environments" such as production processes in organizations, regulation, and information management and published a variety of research in environmental policy, government policy towards the arts, and management, with special interests in energy, facility siting, information and perceptions in public choice and work environments, and policy design. His current research is focused on transportation biofuels and their effects on global land use, food security, and international trade; regulatory policy in the face of scientific uncertainty; and, after a three-decade hiatus, on NIMBY conflicts afflicting high speed rail right-of-way and nuclear waste disposal sites. He is also a regular writer on pedagogy, especially teaching in professional education, and co-edited the "Curriculum and Case Notes" section of the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. Between faculty appointments at the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, he was director of policy analysis at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs. He has had visiting appointments at Università Bocconi in Milan and the National University of Singapore and teaches regularly in the Goldman School's executive (mid-career) programs. At GSPP, O'Hare has taught a studio course in Program and Policy Design, Arts and Cultural Policy, Public Management, the pedagogy course for graduate student instructors, Quantitative Methods, Environmental Policy, and the introduction to public policy for its undergraduate minor, which he supervises. Generally, he considers himself the school's resident expert in any subject in which there is no such thing as real expertise (a recent project concerned the governance and design of California county fairs), but is secure in the distinction of being the only faculty member with a metal lathe in his basement and a 4×5 Ebony view camera. At the moment, he would rather be making something with his hands than writing this blurb.