In the continuation of Doctorow’s First Law, in Information Doesn’t Want to Be Free, Doctorow talks about how the digital lock is only for the benefit of the publisher of the content, not the creator.

In the first title, “Understanding General-Purpose Computers”, Doctorow talks about how the general-purpose computer came about in history through the advancements by Alan Turing and John von Neumann. A general-purpose computer is a computer that is able to “compute” any program when given time and memory such as:

  • Desktops
  • Notebooks
  • Smartphones
  • Tablets

Since a general-purpose computer can run any program, it is able to run a program that is able to break a digital lock. However, the use of spyware in a general-purpose computer can stop the computer from breaking these locks. The spyware can hide themselves and their work from the users and the operating systems, it also watches what the user is doing on the computer. Hence, even though the general-purpose computer can run any program, spyware will be there observing it.

“Rootkits Everywhere”, explains that spyware and anti-copying are under the strategy of a “rootkit”. Once a rootkit has infiltrated the operating system, it cannot be detected and it can also conceal malicious software that is associated with it. Doctorow uses the example of a rootkit that Sony used to delete any attempts to copy the CD that it was hidden in. However, this soon allowed virus writers to hide viruses under the rootkit which then attacked the computers without being detected. Thus, the use of rootkits in computers can lead to others taking advantage of it to use it for their own benefit, such as virus writers in the case of the Sony rootkit.

The next title, “Appliances”, explains that companies have been installing general-purpose computers in appliances, e.g. home broadband routers and refrigerators. These appliances would have the same hardware as other models but different software uploaded in them. However, the companies make the software treat the customers as if they were threats. This is through the use of spyware and other countermeasures that is installed in the products so that the user cannot inspect the software of the product. Although, if you managed to see the inner workings, you are not allowed to share the information.

Doctorow uses HP as an example that he uses to show how companies use the software to take control of the product. They also do not allow the users to see how the software of the printers work, if not the user will try to make the printer accept third-party ink cartridges that are cheaper. However, HP devoted most of it’s security to preventing third-party cartridges rather other types of security. This allowed a student called Ang Cui to take over the entire network of HP by letting a printer in the headquarters to print his document. Therefore, this shows that companies use rootkits to prevent users from hijacking their system to the user’s benefit but does not protect other parts of the product.

“Worse Than Nothing”, states the impact of digital locks on the users. Doctorow says that “Digital locks turn paying customers into pirates”. This is because if the product is not in the format that the user wants, they have to break the digital lock to change the format. As “Locking users out doesn’t reduce down-loads, it reduces sales”. When Apple took away NBC’s material from iTunes, downloads, the download rates for those shows stayed higher before the blackout as:

  • Without the right format, users resorted to piracy
  • They started pirating other content as well in addition to the original one
  • The users then developed a habit of downloading illegally

That is why creators should not sell their products with digital locks, if not your product will spend eternity in someone elses hands.

In conclusion, Doctorow’s First Law explains the disadvantages of digital locks on the creator of the product. In my opinion, I agree with Doctorow that digital locks are a waste of space, they only make matters worse for the creator as if the product is not in the user’s best format, they can break the digital lock and use it. The digital locks make the product have higher download rates. Although companies may use rootkits to protect the software from being copied, it is a violation of the user’s privacy as the spyware is watching every move on the computer.

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