Architecture in action: License Revocation
Over the years when UCITA was looming, I often talked about how its “electronic self help” provisions could allow a software publisher to unilaterally deprive customers of the right to use products they had purchased. While UCITA might now be toast, the spirit of electronic self help is very much alive with something called “license revocation” - a kind of electronic self help for content. And, particularly if Microsoft has its way, license revocation could make for a very strange world.
License revocation is not just a Microsoft thing. Not surprisingly, where it is really starting to become visible are the pay-per-tunes music services. Music services have no choice but to attach some form of DRM (Digital Rights/Restrictions Management) to the music tracks they sell in order to get the record companies to sign up with their service. But for at least some of the services, part of that devil’s bargain is to let the copyright holder take back licenses to play those tunes whenever it so chooses. “Your copy of the Software and your access to certain applications that communicate with it are subject to restriction and/or revocation (such as being shut down) for security purposes or according to consistently applied Content-protection policies,” reads the Napster 2.0 EULA, for example. “You understand and agree that this would likely result in Content that was previously available for use being unavailable thereafter.”
[...] How tempting will a Hollywood studio find the capability to revoke all licenses it sold to a movie when it decides it’s time to re-release it to the theatres? Those sensitive company files that an ex-employee can be barred from accessing might include his original employment contact, for example. Or perhaps documents revealing company misdeeds that a whistleblower was about to leak to the press could suddenly disappear for all time. Would there be such a thing as false advertising when any traces of the misleading ad can be made to disappear?
A world in which all content is DRM’d and subject to license revocation is a world in which history can constantly be rewritten by the powers-that-be.