Viruses and DRM

Other folk have picked up on this already, but I thought it interesting enough to throw out my thoughts (which, admittedly, are not that different from the others). In an article in the NYT, author William Gibson derides the unprofessionalism behind the stuxnet code, and gives a brief account of the first PC virus “Brain”. I knew some of the history of Brain, but the article made me think of it in a whole new way. The first computer virus, the start of the malware hell we have been through for the last quarter of a century, was also arguably the first attempt at digital DRM.

To avoid NYT link-rot, here is what Wikipedia says about Brain:

Brain was written by two brothers, Basit and Amjad Farooq Alvi, who lived in Chahmiran near Lahore Railway Station, Lahore, Pakistan. The brothers told TIME magazine they had written it to protect their medical software from piracy and it was supposed to target copyright infringers only.

Now, I am sure that someone would have come up with the idea, out of pure meanness, sooner or later, but this tells me that the evil influence of digital DRM has been around a lot longer than one might think. The damage done by the brothers Alvi was inadvertent. Well, not inadvertent inadvertent, because they fully intended harm to those who used their product without paying them. Call it collateral damage. Like in the bad old days when you had to carpet-bomb a city in order to take out the telephone exchange. As the Sony/BMI rootkit disaster showed, that attitude is still around. Worse, the people who control some kinds of content have been working tirelessly to attack our freedoms by shifting from technical measures to more draconian legal ones. The result will be the same — massive collateral damage to the freedoms of Americans as the emergent consequences roll on for decades. The brothers Alvi were reportedly horrified by what happened. The present crowd don’t care.

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