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4C retreats in Copy Protection storm

Users to get final say on CPRM plans?

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Exclusive The 4C group of computer component makers appears likely to approve modifications to its proposed CPRM content control mechanism, handing a degree of control back to the end user.

The proposed inclusion of CPRM (Content Protection for Removable Media) into the ATA standard - at the behest of the entertainment industry - was first revealed in The Register shortly before Christmas.
It has generated a storm of public protest, condemnation of the idea of 'pay-per-read' disk drives, and a call for boycotts of CPRM-compliant hardware vendors from EFF co-founder John Gilmore.

Under new proposals submitted to 4C by Linux IDE guru Andre Hedrick, users would be able to control the use of CPRM on their machines. Hedrick represents the Linux community interests on the NCITS T.13 committee, and attended the two meetings which have discussed the incorporation of CPRM into the ATA standard used by hard drives.

"Users will be able to turn it off and lock it off, so effectively it's not there anymore," he says. The entertainment industry would nevertheless be able distribute CPRM-aware content, although the ultimate decision on accepting such content would be the end user, who will also be able to isolate the files to a separate partition. "This way, everybody wins," he says.

Hedrick's amendment includes two new commands, which "SHALL be included in all devices that support/enable the CPRM 'e00148rX', which is now defined as OPTIONAL. Regardless if the CPRM key locks are supported, CPRM Enable:Disable SHALL be supported".

LinuxJournal has already published Hedrick's proposal in detail, here.

In practical terms, the user keys in a PIN number which may permanently block CPRM media from being written to the drive. Embedded systems such as digital TV recorders could be exempt from the passcode.

If the user sets the system to reject CPRM content, then the operating system would be unable to complete the write operation. The passcode is not retained between power cycles, so would be reset at boot time. In other words, it becomes the responsibility of the operating system to maintain CPRM: a major departure from the CPRM mechanism currently on the table.

Intel is aware of the proposals and a formal statement is expected from 4C members (comprising Intel, IBM, Matsushita and Toshiba) in support the modified CPRM mechanism later this week.

Hedrick represents the Linux community on the ATA committee, and says that while remaining an opponent of what he characterises as the "Hollywood SEWER", and the CPRM mechanism in particular, the likelihood of a defeat at February's vote has forced him to look at ways to mitigate its most harmful effects. T.13 makes technical, not social decisions, he says and in such a forum, CPRM can't be shouted down on technical grounds.

His amendment completes the earlier CPRM by plugging a loophole that Java applets could exploit by making CPRM calls without permission from the host.

LinuxJournal's Don Marti has an interview with Hedrick exploring the implications of CPRM on ATA. Check it out here.. ®

Bootnote

Silicon Valley's influential San Jose Mercury made the CPRM story front page news last Friday.

Although the Merc didn't credit The Register - that's bad manners, but we're used to it - it did credit Richard M Stallman with being "author" of The Hackers Dictionary... which will raise a wry smile to anyone familiar with Eric Raymond's Jargon File...

Related stories

Stealth plan puts copy protection into every hard drive
EFF's Gilmore calls for CPRM hardware boycott
Copy protection hard drive plan nixes free software
Everything you ever wanted to know about CPRM, but ZDNet wouldn't tell you... (our handy FAQ)
CPRM on hard drives - IBM takes a spin
CNet suckered by CPRM spin

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