GIS Thoughts

Extreme DRM

At the AGI conference this week Graham Vowles presented a paper on the development of GeoDRM Geographic Digital Rights Managment, and in the debate which followed a consensus seemed to point to the best type of DRM offered only “just enough” protection. Mark’s Sysinternals Blog illustrates how DRM can go too far. Another reason to be an Apple user, rootkits are just evil !!

Written and submitted from home, using my home 802.11 network.

10 replies on “Extreme DRM”

I think the best comment left on his blog was about using cloaking of the rootkit against the DRM software itself. By renaming the file using the $sys$ prefix, you could hide the CD to be ripped from the DRM protection. Now that’s karma.

also, if you think Apple’s Unix core is immune from rootkits you are definitely mistaken. Where do you think the term “rootkit” came from, if it were a Windows only issue it would be called “adminkit”


rootkits aside, there are plenty of reasons DRM is a terrible idea.

I think sums most of them up nicely.

Some initial uses of DRM in GIS might be that you can only access X data if you are a licensed researcher, or you must be using ESRI software, or you can use it but you can’t modify it or use it in an analysis, or whatever. It’ll be easy to bypass the DRM of course, but unlike keeping copies of all your netflix videos in your basement, generally the results of our GIS work aren’t so relegated, and the use of the data must be legit.

I could go on and on, but my general feeling is that as the USGS and other commercially oriented organizations start to jump on this drm bandwagon, we’ll have ramifications that lead to less access to gis data in general, and this is bad for end-users and the GIS industry as a whole.


I have a lot of sympathy with your views,what we need is access to more data not less – for commercial data providers increased revenue usually means increased data availability and quality.

I think it is often wrong to focus only on the commercial aspects of DRM – although important for commercial providers like the OS, there are many creators of data who what to make sure they data is used in an appropriate way and potentially not modified but who do not charge for access. In many defence and Intelligence applications this is the case.

The clever bit will be to make DRM invisible to the honest user


Hi Sean,

Yes I have read it .. but don’t agree with a lot of it.. Although Cory slags of Apple’s Fairplay DRM in iTunes, without it the Record Companies would not have allowed Apple to set up the iTunes Music Stores – iPods would be just geek devices and there would be now a smaller market for downloaded music.

Fairplay is really a copy protection mechanism rather than true DRM, but it does work well and most iPod owners don’t even know it exists.


No doubt, Apple is a big player in the media business because of the iPod, but that’s not the model we want for the geospatial industry, is it? TeleAtlas (just for example) data bound to a TeleAtlas GIS appliance, and useless with my Ordnance Survey GIS appliance, or my open source software. Ugh.

Apple’s DRM is working well only in the sense that it is making money for Apple. It was readily cracked, and so is a failure in that sense.


Yes you are right we really don’t want a closed system like Fairplay it must be open, and implemented using industry standards like those of the OGC


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