The Internet Heist (Part III)

We are family

Cory Doctorow
Published in
8 min readJan 15, 2022


The anti-piracy “You Wouldn’t Steal A Car” title-card, modified to read “You Wouldn’t Steal the Future.”
FACT (modified)

Note: This is Part III in a series; Part I is here, Part II is here.

Even today, I can’t tell if the entertainment execs and their tech collaborators that I sparred with in the DRM wars were brilliant schemers or overconfident fools.

When these men — almost all men — set out to create laws that would give their corporations a collective veto over which programs all computers could run, and which real-world data could be captured by computers, were they really doing it all for the sake of controlling how we watch TV? Or did they grasp just how this power over our digital tools would translate into control over our lives in an increasingly digital era?

I still don’t know. It’s easy to believe in unlimited corporate hubris, but it’s just as easy to believe in unlimited corporate foolishness. What’s more, it’s possible that some of the players were along for the ride, while others had a very precise understanding of the stakes.

What were those stakes?

Well, for starters, how about the definition of “the family.”

As I discussed in Part I, the US was a laggard in the “digital TV transition” and this created an opportunity for an entertainment and tech cartel to propose a solution: Simply create a Star Chamber of execs from incumbent companies to dictate the operating characteristics of all computing technology, and then Hollywood studios might release movies for high-def, over-the-air broadcast.

Other countries did not have this DTV problem. Most high-income nations have public broadcasters who were willing to step in wherever the private sector balked. In countries that use the DVB digital TV standard — in Europe, parts of South America, Africa, Asia, Australia, etc. — there was a quick and relatively painless DTV transition.

But somehow, DVB still got suckered into making a DRM component for its standard, DVB-Copy Protection and Copy Management (DVB-CPCM). This was a product that no DVB viewer wanted, but nevertheless, the same tech and CE companies teamed up with the same movie studios and broadcasters (mostly from the EU) to create a technical specification for restricting how programs recorded by DVB users would work.