UK Government ‘Wastes’ £200k on New Anti-Piracy Tech

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In ever-more futile efforts to ‘fix’ piracy, lots of methods have been tried, and it’s doubtful there are very many left, except the obvious one of giving consumers what they want. Now the UK Intellectual Property Office has given almost £200,000 to two new projects that will almost certainly fail.

ipoLet’s face facts here. Piracy-wise, the horse has already bolted. A majority of the population knows how to get what they want, and how to circumvent measures.

The old guard, however, are pushing for ever more draconian measures in an attempt to turn back the tide. Now the UK Intellectual Property Office (IPO) has reached out to some groups it hopes might provide the metaphorical Silver Bullet (or at least white one) to deal with it.

On Thursday, the IPO and the Department of Business Industry and Skills (BIS – better known for being the department that rammed the Digital Economy act through after some back-room deals) proudly announced two anti-piracy grants. Contracts totaling £196,000 were signed with two companies as a result of a competition by the Technology Strategy Board called “How to promote Legitimate Online Intellectual Property Markets”. The simple business-oriented answers of “adapt to new technologies” and “give consumers what they want” clearly were not submitted.

£83,000 went to the University of Surrey for what the BIS calls “a novel scheme for protecting digital media content”, or as we generally call it, DRM. Few details are actually available at present, but the IPO describes it thusly:

Digital content which has been obtained illegally is automatically blocked by the system. A key feature of the proposed technology is not to inconvenience legitimate users like existing Digital Rights Management systems do: Users don’t need to worry about how to configure and use the system; they just use their devices as usual without even knowing about its existence. The technology is patent-pending and further details will be available once it is published.

And if this sounds like the claims made of every other DRM product, you’d be right. Once removed for one person, it’s removed for anyone else, making DRM’d goods MORE popular for piracy.

drm-noMeanwhile those using the DRM’d product are restricted to what the DRM allows, which does inconvenience others. Just ask Apple about Fairplay and why they removed it, or users who’ve fallen foul of CSS, AACS, or indeed any other DRM scheme. In reality, ditching DRM reduces piracy

The lion’s share of the money – £113,000 – went to a company called ‘WhiteBullet’. If you’ve not heard of them, you’re not alone. Started less than 3 months ago, its big idea is that websites really need a colour-coding system so people can tell how ‘legitimate’ it is. Called the “IP Infringement Index”, or IPI, it’s a red/amber/green rating for sites based on how ‘infringing’ they think a site is.

Of course, like all automated systems there are going to be significant errors. When Viacom can’t tell if it uploaded stuff to YouTube itself in court filings, or music blogs get seized because record labels forgot they told them to distribute songs, any automated system assessing 3rd party infringement will be next to useless.

Also missing is exactly how this IPI rating will be used. A consumer-based system would require either a browser plugin, or the likes of Google to integrate it. A private ‘look at our score for your site’ model, by contrast, will have all the wide-ranging appeal and accuracy of a Special 301 report. Also, its claim to be “developed in conjunction with industry and law enforcement” and “in accordance with legal best practices and have been openly reviewed with key Internet stakeholders” might be more believable if they had some actual specifics.

Of course, that’s not so surprising when you find out the two people behind White Bullet are Peter Szyszko and Jane Sunderland. Peter was Senior Legal Counsel at NBC Universal from January 2006, until he left to form White Bullet.

Sunderland is no slouch in the establishment anti-piracy world either. Between 1997 and 2011 she was Vice President of Content Protection at Fox, with another three years before that as VP Intellectual Property. Some of her most memorable actions there include the statement back in 2007 that episodes of 24 uploaded to YouTube before their airdate could cause irreparable harm to Fox (and yet they’re still here)

So never fear our British readers. Public funds are being spent wisely on yet another DRM scheme and a ‘scoring’ system that has no obvious method of use, all to protect massively profitable media companies. Isn’t austerity great?

And if we find out more about how these new white elephant bullets, or DRM-that-isn’t are supposed to work,  we’ll let you know.


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