17 January 2012

Copyright is Anti-Competitive?


At the beginning of December, we warned the Copyright Office that operating system vendors would use UEFI secure boot anticompetitively, by colluding with hardware partners to exclude alternative operating systems. As Glyn Moody points out, Microsoft has wasted no time in revising its Windows Hardware Certification Requirements to effectively ban most alternative operating systems on ARM-based devices that ship with Windows 8.
The Certification Requirements define (on page 116) a "custom" secure boot mode, in which a physically present user can add signatures for alternative operating systems to the system's signature database, allowing the system to boot those operating systems. But for ARM devices, Custom Mode is prohibited: "On an ARM system, it is forbidden to enable Custom Mode. Only Standard Mode may be enable." [sic] Nor will users have the choice to simply disable secure boot, as they will on non-ARM systems: "Disabling Secure [Boot] MUST NOT be possible on ARM systems." [sic] Between these two requirements, any ARM device that ships with Windows 8 will never run another operating system, unless it is signed with a preloaded key or a security exploit is found that enables users to circumvent secure boot. [Emphasis added. Hat tip (and fairly technical analysis of the issue):  Karl Denninger.]

There are two things worth noting from this story.

First, this story once again demonstrates the abject stupidity of intellectual property laws.  They are, and always have been, monopolistic in nature.  It should come as no surprise, then, that intellectual property laws create monopolies.  That is the entire point.  I’ve dwelt on this subject often enough, so I won’t rehash it further at this point in time.

Second, it’s illustrative how the government is now forced to solve—via antitrust laws—a problem that it initially created—by intellectual property laws.  This is how government works.  It takes something that is, for the most part, working just fine, tries to tweak it and make it better, actually ends up making it worse, and then has to interfere more in order to make it right again.  In essence, the only reason government is needed is because it exists.

At any rate, the government is now caught in a position of trying to strike a balance between the laws that command competition and the laws that command monopoly.  This result, if it’s not completely one-sided, will likely resemble something close to the natural market outcome, which then begs the question of why this wasn’t allowed to be settled in the free market in the first place.

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