Are content and open source incompatible?

Summary:The end result is to largely shut open source software out of the media playing arena, and thus, if you believe in the convergence of media playing devices and computering devices, out of the general purpose home computer arena.

Brad Templeton
Are content and open source incompatible? It would seem so.

Brad Templeton (left), who is chairman of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, brought up this point to Dave Farber's Interesting People list yesterday and, for some reason, it brought me up short.

Because he's right.

One of the core beliefs of open source is that users must be able to see and change their software.

This is incompatible with the idea of Digital Rights Management (DRM), something that is now mandated under the law for use in all content systems. Current exceptions to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) anti-circumvention provisions, while laudable, do not allow the creation of new open source content displays.

The idea behind open source is you must have access to the source code. The fundamental idea of a DRM is you can't. Now you can put the DRM into hardware and then write an open source controller for it, but that then limits an open source programmer to doing whatever the hardware was designed for. Closed source programmers do not have this limitation on their creativity.

Brad put this so well I have to quote it directly:
 

The end result is to largely shut open source software out of the media playing arena, and thus, if you believe in the convergence of media playing devices and computering devices, out of the general purpose home computer arena.

The DMCA was not crafted to maintain the monopolies of Microsoft or anyone else in the computer space. But that is exactly the impact it does have. [Editor's note: See David Berlind's Unstoppable? The Microsoft media juggernaut.] 'You can't make "the next Tivo" using open source. You can't innovate anything relating to content playing or content display using open source.

The conflict between content and innovation, long prophesied by DMCA opponents, is here.

Topics: Open Source

About

Dana Blankenhorn has been a business journalist since 1978, and has covered technology since 1982. He launched the Interactive Age Daily, the first daily coverage of the Internet to launch with a magazine, in September 1994.

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