from the I'm-sorry-Dave,--I'm-afraid-I-can't-print-that dept
Stories about copying turn up a lot on Techdirt. That's largely as a consequence of two factors. First, because the Internet is a copying machine -- it works by repeatedly copying bits as they move around the globe -- and the more it permeates today's world, the more it places copying at the heart of modern life. Secondly, it's because the copyright industries hate unauthorized copies of material -- which explains why they have come to hate the Internet. It also explains why they spend so much of their time lobbying for ever-more punitive laws to stop that copying. And even though they have been successful in bringing in highly-damaging laws -- of which the DMCA is probably the most pernicious -- they have failed to stop the unauthorized copies.
But if you can't stop people copying files, how about stopping them from doing anything useful with them? That seems to be the idea behind an IBM patent application spotted by TorrentFreak, which it summarizes as follows:
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.
As with so many patents, the idea is simple to the point of triviality: only a company more concerned about the quantity of its patents, rather than their quality, would have bothered to file an application. Nonetheless, it's a troubling move, because it helps legitimize the idea that everything we do -- even printing a document -- has to be checked for possible infringements before it can be authorized and executed.
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.
But why stop with printers? We've already seen Microsoft's Protected Media Path for video, a "feature" that was introduced with Windows Vista; it's easy to imagine something a little more active that matches the material you want to view or listen to against a database of permissions before displaying or playing it. And how about a keyboard that checks text as you type it for possible copyright infringements and for URLs that have been blocked by copyright holders?
There is a popular belief that the computer in Stanley Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey" was named "HAL" after IBM, by replacing each letter in the company name with its predecessor. That's apocryphal, but with this latest patent application IBM is certainly moving squarely into HAL territory.