Google DRM could be Shire madness

The London Review of Books thinks Larry Page and Sergey Brin are the Wallace and Gromit of IT. We see them in a more dramatic role....

A shadow had fallen across the land. Where once a peaceful people had lived and worked together, using technology to improve their lot at home and at work, now fear and loathing lurked in the lengthening gloom

Closed standards, digital rights management, software patents. These servants of evil were sent out to fight freedom and to enslave the masses. The mightiest road warriors fell back, powerless to resist. But then, out of a scruffy hole in a rural backwater called Stanford, two brave but modest creatures emerged. Known as halflings — because each had only completed one half of a PhD — they must journey to the very Gates of hell to put an end to the world of closed standards, and destroy DRM, the Dread Ring of Mordor. One code to rule them all, and in the darkness bind them? It shall not stand!

And so out set Larry and Sergey, singing 'don't be evil' and 'Information wants to be free' as they tore down one by one the barriers set up by those who monopolised technology for their own ends. The Empire of the all-seeing Eye-E was worried. Surely these two weren't capable of destroying its power?

At first, the pair were unstoppable. Millions rallied to them as they threw open the world's information for all to share, and handed their supporters more storage for their precious emails than they could ever need. They gave everyone an eagle's-eye view of the land without the bother of finding your own bird, and brought the magic of open communications to different tribes who were barred from speaking together by their evil overlords.

But the weapons of the enemy cannot be treated lightly. And so it was that the closer they came to their goal, the greater the temptation to indulge in the very behaviour they had sworn to root out. Perhaps thought Larry, if I just slip on the DRM, all the riches of the West will be mine. I can slip past the paywalls of Hollywood and into the heart of the Evil One. But as he did so, a strange change came over him...

Will Larry and Sergey have the strength to complete their quest? Or will DRM prove their undoing? Reports from enemy territory are worrying indeed. Rather than ending tyranny, our pair appear to have used their power to build another temple where secrecy, restrictions and limitation will be worshipped, fealty paid instead of freedom claimed.

Every good fable needs its cliffhangers. Heroes must be tempted, and the forces of righteousness cannot win every battle. But just as Google can still make the world a better place, its growing power means its top men carry ever greater responsibility. If they get sucked into the old ways, the darkness will touch us all.

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