I’ve been fascinated by the stuff that Jon Lech Johansen has been up to for quite a while now, he first came to my notice sometime in 2000, soon after he started his reverse-engineer every lock-in campaign; take a look at his blog, So Sue Me, if you’re interested. In fact, if you’re really interested, you should see his Wikipedia entry (which I’ve linked to above) and use that as a date filter into his blog archives.
“I was fed up with not being able to play a movie the way I wanted to play it”. [He wanted to use a PC running Linux.]
His frustration led to his working with a few people to develop DeCSS. When you take a look at the Wikipedia entry for DeCSS, you find the following:
The licensing restrictions on CSS make it impossible to create an open source implementation through official channels, and closed source drivers are unavailable for some operating systems, so some users need DeCSS to watch DVDs at all.
We’ve all felt some, if not all, of his frustrations. Poorly implemented DRM can create content jails and denude and blight the open spaces where many of us want to live. As with any jail, there have been many attempts to break out. What’s curious about Jon’s latest attempt with the iPod is that he’s breaking in, not out.
There’s something about it that really grabs me. It’s a sort-of hide-in-plain-sight Purloined Letter response to the problem.
I think there is something for all of us to learn from developments like these:
- People are generally very frustrated at not being able to listen to, watch or otherwise interact with music and film and video. We may not be able to see it, but that’s because we’re dinosaurs. Generation M can see it. Unlike us, they will do something about their frustrations. There will be many DVD Jons out there.
- Even where solutions exist, or can be made to exist, we have a lot of licence issues to deal with. The generation I belong to probably put most energy into solving the wrong problems, often creating ill-starred tax wheezes and get-rich-quick schemes. Generation M isn’t into the same stuff as we were into, and they will work around current licence issues. There will be many DeCSSs out there.
- Generation M’s ingenuity isn’t to be trifled with. Our generation may spend time building our walled gardens and using terms like “content” and “IPR” and whatever else we come up with. They’re not going to break out with “our” stuff. They’re going to break in with “theirs”. What Jon did to the iPod was a bit like creating a master key at a hotel in order to solve the different room keys problem. Master keys are used to break in, not out. There will be many master keys out there.
Opensource has always been about free as in freedom, not free as in gratis. Generation M’s values are different from ours, their facility with modern technology is considerably greater, their ingenuity in solving problems comes from quite a different perspective.
People like Jon will devote an awful lot of energy into removing what they see as unfair obstacles. Too often, the obstacles are really about creating artificial scarcities, about protecting some perverse lock-in.
There are many people like Jon out there. Many more than people not-like-Jon, interested in building walls. And soon, with the continued growth in usage of social software, they will have some serious muscle in terms of critical mass.
Think about it before you try and build the wrong walls. Sand castles don’t do particularly well against tidal waves.