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Hedrick's compromise, Take Two

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Andre Hedrick, the Linux developer involved in brokering a compromise in the CPRM copy control furore, has given a brief but memorable email interview to Slashdot readers.

Although it covers ground familiar to readers of our coverage, particularly in our FAQ, some important news does emerge too.

As you may recall, IBM and Intel have tried to dampen public outrage - calls to boycott participating hardware vendors, to withdraw co-operation from IBM's Linux projects - by suggesting that the CPRM in ATA plan only deals with removable drives.

This was the line taken by Chipzilla Veep Pat Gelsinger in a Boxing Day email to Dave Farber's mailing list, and then dutifully echoed by the spin doctors. However, as we pointed out, tCPRM on ATA was specification overkill for removable media, and contained calls that only hard drives required.

So we couldn't quite see the need to add a powerful copy control framework to a specification used primarily for fixed-storage... unless the plan involved fixed storage somewhere down the line.

This time last week the 4C Entity signalled its willingness to accept a compromise offered by Hedrick, who sits on the T.13 committee that oversees the ATA specification. This would allow users to permanently block CPRM operations on their drives. In return, Hedrick would approve the modified proposal, and CPRM would become part of the ATA specification.

Last week too, Intel's Chuck Molloy promised - 13 days after we broke the story - that the 4C Entity wouldn't license CPRM for use on fixed devices. Intel's promised a lot of things over the years - that it wouldn't enter the motherboard business, for example, or that it would never manufacture PCs (Registers passim) - but this was significant nonetheless, and drew a guarded welcome.

However Hedrick now suggests that we may have something firmer to go on than an Intel promise. Although last week's counter-proposal has been bounced, says Hedrick, a modified version of his scheme explicitly differentiates between fixed and removable ATA drives. Or as he puts it:

"Thus it appears that I have agreed to drop the no longer needed enable/disable CPRM feature set, because ATA-Devices supporting Word0 Bit6 set to ONE are not going to be allowed to have CPRM support! Thus we may have finally won the removal of CPRM from your HARD DRIVE!! WOOHOO WOOHOO WOOHOO WOOHOO WOOHOO WOOHOO!!!!!!!" he writes.

OK Andre, are you pleased about that or what? Tell us what you really think...

Hedrick says this would entail CPRM going into ATA subsets used for removable media such as IBM microdrives, memory sticks ... which IBM and Intel have insisted all along is what they wanted to achieve. So it looks like it could be a compromise that may be acceptable to the powerful entertainment lobby.

But hold on, we're not out of the woods quite yet. With CPRM implemented on removable drives, users would still need access to their keys when moving, copying or deleting their CPRM-enabled data: dependent on the permissions set by the media "owner". So much as today, you'd better keep that DVD or music CD disc in a safe place. And that goes for backups containing CPRM'd files, too.

That isn't quite the nightmare that would ensue if CPRM was implemented on fixed drives - that would break existing backup, RAID and optimisation software. Hedrick - in an early contender for quote of the year - characterises thus: "Ever had a morning where you were not kissed and told 'I love you,' when the night before you SCREWED so wildly that you could not remember?"

Hedrick calls for continuing vigilance - particularly on the SCSI T.10 committee, where CPRM is also being proposed, he claims - and sensibly suggests boycotting Hollywood. ®

Related Link
Andre Hedrick Slashdot interview

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