The Stuckist Net – what is your post-Palladium future?

Multiple TCPAs, and continental drift

"Your paintings are stuck, you are stuck! Stuck! Stuck! Stuck!" - Tracey Emin [to Billy Childish].

The copyright holders who dominate the entertainment oligopolies in the United States could risk ceding the nation's technological lead, once and forever.

How so?

Well, we now see that the Pigopolists intend to restrict the open protocols of the Internet. If there was any doubt, it should finally have been dispelled on Friday, as Thomas C Greene reported in Media giants demand ISPs block Web sites.

We heard it coming two years ago when a Sony executive let on rather more than he should have, promising to block the packets:-

"We will develop technology that transcends the individual user. We will firewall Napster at source - we will block it at your cable company, we will block it at your phone company, we will block it at your [ISP]. We will firewall it at your PC," he said.

Three months later we exposed the first attempt to copy control OpenPC hardware - CPRM -
plans which now seem quite tender now, following the proposed Hollings Act and Microsoft's Palladium.

Sony's plans are succeeding splendidly.

Explaining his position on a European TCPA last week, Bill Thompson said he'd arrived at the conclusion that a Fritz-chipped, lock-down Palladium was inevitable, as it had Microsoft and Intel on board as willing executioners.

I think he's being optimistic. I can envisage multiple TCPAs: the Disney/Wintel version being the first. Quite certainly, a Chinese TCPA will follow, when they discover how useful it is to monitor individual computer users so precisely. TCPAs might not fall across continental boundaries, either.

So although Bill's argument was couched as a breakaway, it's really the US computer industry that's making the first break. His is the first European reaction. The computer industry, in an alliance with the entertainment pigopolists is simply filling a vacuum that's been left by people unwilling to engage on a political level. They'd rather be coding, or warchalking, or, heck, doing anything except face the imminent lock-down.

(How many articles about warchalking have you read in the last month, compared to articles supporting the real legislation on offer to limit Pigopolist power? Priorities, please ladies and gentlemen.)

Now, I actually side with the constitutionalists here - today's DMCA and the courts may one day strike down potential Fritz bills. But by the time that happens, the freedom of changing your graphics card or upgrading your CPU will be a distant memory.

The US PC industry is attempting to lock down the PC that's been an open platform ever since Compaq reverse engineered the IBM PC BIOS, and the fledgling cloners turned their noses at Big Blue's MCA bus. And the Internet protocols have, we've always been open since the mid-1970s. Many people at Intel don't like it - Andy Grove has spoken out against it quite eloquently - but if it means losing Intel's dominant position in the United States, or the huge Chinese market of the future, then Intel will Fritz it's chips for anyone who asks.

But with the Internet's key routers, and top level domain name registry files physically hosted in the United States, with phasers set to stun, what are the rest of us - stuck with our antiquated regard for open protocols, open source, open PC hardware - to do?

How the Stuckist Internet?
We'll call ourselves Stuckists. We like open hardware, and we like routers that don't care about the packets that run through them. We'd like to be stuck there. Where will we be in a world of Multiple TCPAs?

Well, the first obstacle will be hardware. There's a ready alternative in Linux, which would thrive in such conditions, but Stuckists will need processors. They could clone x86, or license a non-Intel instruction set such as ARM cheaply, or SPARC for no cost at all. That's the easy part. Manufacturing requires huge capital investment

And who delivers the bandwidth? Well, if your needs are local, use your Stuckist PC primarily for communication and not for Hollywood-generated content, it's not going to be a problem.

While replacing the TLDs with alternative root systems simply requires political consensus Dragging domain names into the issue might seem odd - but it's an instrument of control.

Now this might look like a formidable set of obstacles, until your consider two countries that would welcome this as an opportunity: the world's biggest democracy, and the world's most populous country. Both have far more to gain from fuelling a Stuckist Internet than they might by following the Disney/Palladium path.

Lamenting the lack of innovation in US manufacturing (it's a Western issue) John C Dvorak wrote: "Over the years we've always been told that the American edge was our inventiveness. But we can't be inventive if there is no necessity. And there is no necessity when there's no competition and everyone is feeding from the same Chinese manufacturing trough."

But it's much worse that that.

China has the oldest engineering tradition in the world, but most importantly, ensures that many of the manufacturing deals it has struck with Western technology companies have specified intellectual property transfers. It's rather keen on Linux. India also produces excellent engineers, has many English speakers, and is rather keen on Linux too. Both would see this as an opportunity to lead, rather than follow. China's ambitions are the same as Korea and Japan's twenty years ago: they have no intention to serve a low-tech sweatshop for the west.

Is this where the post-Palladium technology industry will be centred? I trust Andy Grove will be lobbying hard with this scenario, to ensure that America's technology lead - which it takes for granted today - doesn't go the way of its automobile industry.

Finally, remember that the thirst for communication technologies to be open is very strong indeed. But it doesn't always turn out like that. Radio was for several years a two-way communications system, then it became a broadcasting medium, and now ClearChannels own two thirds of all radio stations in the USA.

There's a radio ham underground, of course. But are software libre developers, cypherpunks and the rest of us Stuckists destined for the same fate? Hoping and wishing, Candide-like for the best, that TCPA will just go away, isn't really an option.

Tell me what you think of the Stuckist Internet. ®

Related Stories

Bill Thompson answers critics
Media giants demand ISPs block Web sites
Exemptions exempted in Europe's DMCA
Damn the Constitution: Europe must take back the Web
The MeatSpace Mailbag

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