Rupert Goodwins' Diary

Monday 3/5/2004There is a strong masochistic streak to Microsoft these days, one curiously familiar to followers of British culture. How else do you explain Janus, the company's choice of name for their new digital rights management package?

Monday 3/5/2004
There is a strong masochistic streak to Microsoft these days, one curiously familiar to followers of British culture. How else do you explain Janus, the company's choice of name for their new digital rights management package? Opponents to corporate DRM are roused to ire not because protecting intellectual property is wrong, but because of the duplicitous nature of those who try to extend their control beyond the norm while claiming it's all for the good of the consumer. Choosing a two-faced god as your DRM mascot in these times is like letting an unpatched Windows PC onto the Internet without a firewall.

It could be that Microsoft chose Janus because he was the god of gatekeeping and a symbol of beginnings -- January's named for him, after all -- but he was also a bi-featured bloke who protected the powerful. One of the myths of the foundation of Rome has Romulus and some rather rough pals starting up their city-state only to be a bit frustrated by a general lack of women -- well, a chap who's been brought up by wolves probably has some issues with interpersonal skills, let alone personal hygiene.

They decided to throw a party and invite the neighbours, the Sabines, for a bit of a bash -- doubtless saying how a few ales and goat en croute would benefit the consumer by offering more choice and convenience over dull old fish and olives. Grateful for the generosity, the Sabines turned up in their party gear and the celebrations commenced.

However, Romulus promptly abducted all the Sabine women and carried them back to the city. Unsurprisingly, the Sabine blokes were a bit put out by this and promptly stormed Rome. They were within a pilum's length of success when Janus came to the rescue -- as the aggrieved party clattered up the hill to rescue their daughters, the god unleashed a hot spring that washed them all away. Now, that's what I call effective streaming media Daughter Rights Management.

It would be unfair, obvious and cheap to compare Bill Gates to Romulus and the rights of the consumer to the Sabine virgins: if Microsoft wants to mess around with pagan gods then that's between its marketing department and the 60-odd percent of American consumers whose evangelical Christianity equates such things with hellfire and damnation. But clearly, Microsoft doesn't care about annoying people. In fact, they might be positively inviting it.

This sort of confrontational stance is increasingly popular. You give your supporters something to whoop about, while your opponents -- who were never going to agree anyway -- get so angry at your chutzpah that they can't see straight to land a punch. George W Bush is an expert at this, David Blunkett, our ID-card loving, judge-baiting, liberal-taunting home secretary, has been taking lessons. Microsoft may well have concluded that since it can't win people's hearts and minds over DRM, it might as well distract us with a symbol that has not one but two bare faces.

There is one further possible explanation: Janus is also the name of a specialist London publication for adherents to what we may primly call the English perversion -- and not so primly call corporal punishment for sexual pleasure.

Whether Microsoft's masochism runs quite that deep, I cannot tell.