DRM has long enabled a file's creator to limit how it is used. We've seen this most often in PDFs, but also office docs and even ebooks, where for example Adobe has a print/readaloud tag in Epub ebooks which can be disabled the publisher.
Now IBM has taken this old idea and applied it to printers.
For those of us living in the 21st-century, a printer was an old way of sharing a document. Way back in the 20th-century, before the internet and email, before smartphones, and even before computers, a printer was a machine which used ink to "print" a copy of a document on paper.
You can think of it as analog, offline cloud storage with limited capacity and durability, and effectively no distribution. (I'm pretty sure those who want to see a printer can find one in the Smithsonian, or some other museum.)
And now IBM wants to apply DRM to this technology from yesteryear, all with the goal of preventing copyright infringement.
Torrentfreak writes that:
unauthorized printing can be problematic for copyright holders, such as book authors, IBM says, and this week the company filed a patent application for a technology that aims to counter the problem.
Simply titled “Copyright Infringement Prevention,” the patent’s main goal is to ‘restrict’ the functionality of printers, so they only process jobs when the person who’s printing them has permission to do so.
It works as follows. When a printer receives a print job, it parses the content for potential copyrighted material. If there is a match, it won’t copy or print anything unless the person in question has authorization.
“The computer, in response to identifying any text, images, or formatting indicative of potential copyrighted material, identifies potential copyrighted material within the file.”
“The computer determines whether the file may be printed based, at least in part, on the identified potential copyrighted material,” the patent description adds.
The patent describes various variations on this approach, and IBM notes that ISBN numbers, United States Copyright Office records, and other public resources could be used to define the copyright status of a work.
I don't know what's crazier: that everyone is calling this a printer patent, when in fact software does all the work; or that this patent is obviously intended to deprive a printer's buyer of control over their property as well as their rights under copyright law.
The patent application says that it wants to make sure that the owner has permission to print a file, and that would be all well and good except for the fact that there are a hundred and one different parts of copyright law under which I don't have ask anyone's permission.
Depending on your legal venue, this includes fair use, fair dealings, public domain, personal copying levy (aka the "you must be a pirate" tax), and creative commons.
This patent proposes to be able to navigate the thicket of laws, rights, permissions, and licensing, some of which dates back to the 17th century, and adjudicate whether a printer's owner can print a file?
Good luck with that.
This is an unworkable idea on any level, but sadly it will still come to pass. Sure, you might not want one, but colleges, libraries, and institutions might get a printer encumbered by this patent if someone pitched it as a feature. It wouldn't be hard to see why it's a bad idea, but not everyone is going to think it through and realize that this isn't going to solve any problems while at the same time it will deprive many people of their rights.
If you see one in the wild, do let me know. You can bring the axe, I will bring my bat'leth, and we can slay the monster together.
image by Col Frankland