Let me present a solution for the Digital Rights Management problem that both the music and movie industries could support and that gives consumers great advantages at the same time. All it needs is the implantation of a crypto chip on the auditory nerve very soon after birth; a minor inconvenience compared to the advantages it can bring to both parents and children.
The technology to produce a small biocompatible and implantable cryptochip is already available. There are problems in regard to supplying sufficient power, but it can probably be solved by using small storage capacitors, coupled with an inductive sling, possibly incorporated into stylish earplugs of the iPod type.
The chip contains a public key crypto system and has a private key that is loaded as the chip is manufactured or at first use. The public key is stored by the manufacturer or, more likely, by an organisation representing the copyright holders, that is, the music industry.
The cryptochip would have two modes: a translation mode and a decrypt mode. In the translation mode, it would take normal sound coming from the inner ear and translate the signals to a totally different pattern according to a key that would be unique for each individual. This scrambling key may or may not be the assymetric private key, but is in any case tightly bound to it. In the decrypt mode, the chip would take an encrypted sound signal coming from the inner ear and decrypt/translate it into a data stream that the brain would understand as normal sound.
The key to understanding the translation mode is that you have to realize that the newborn brain adapts itself to the signals coming from the inner ear through the auditory nerve, until it can make sense of the signals as meaningful sounds. If you change around these signals at a very early stage in the child’s development, the child’s brain will adapt to these modified signals and will make sense of them and will hear and understand sound as if no modification ever happened. A number of physiological experiments support this conjecture, but it still needs experimental proof.
Note that once the child develops its brain “wiring” to work with the chip, you cannot remove the chip without losing auditory function. You cannot replace the chip either, unless the replacement uses the same scrambling function as the original the child matured with. This ties the child, and later adult, in to the original manufacturer or key holder who alone has possession of the original scrambling “key” and can replace the chip if it is defective or damaged by accident. This is one of the major advantages of my system.
So now we have a perfectly normal child or adult with a chip that cannot be removed without losing auditory function, but that works perfectly well with normal speech and other sounds. As long as the chip is kept charged by an outer application of inductive current at regular intervals, the person is fully and normally functional. (Note that the need for charging implies a need for listening to provided content and presents a powerful motivator for the audience to accept targeted marketing. In other words: “no ads, no ears”.)
The second mode of the chip allows personalization of copyrighted auditory works in a way we’ve never seen before. When the person purchases a track of music, he or she provides the vendor with his public key, which allows the vendor to produce a copy of the track that can only be decrypted with the chip carried by a single person. The targeted chip is the only chip that holds the correct private key. Note that the person carrying the chip does not know his private key; only the corporation that owns the rights to distribute content possesses a copy of the private key, allowing it to replace the chip if defective, or to add the key to a beneficiary’s auditory chip if so stipulated in a testament, for instance, allowing the transference of digital rights at death.
Personally encrypted music will sound like static or pink noise to any other individual with a non-targeted chip implant or with no implant at all. Copying of this encrypted sound stream does not need to be limited at all, since it cannot be enjoyed by anyone except the rightful customer.
Likewise, secret communications can be individually targeted using the same principles. If a vocal command is encrypted for a particular person, it can be announced over a PA system and only the targeted person will comprehend the message. A number of individuals can be addressed simultanously by creating a single session key that is encrypted for each individual you wish to address. Commanding even large groups of undercover agents can be securely achieved, to the detriment of terrorists.
In this way, you can very securely determine exactly who can listen to a track of music or a speech, for instance. Parents will finally be put in control of what their children can listen to, avoiding exposure to undesirable ideas. If you include a “parental control” into the chip that disables translation of normal unencrypted sound and you add an enabling code, akin to the lock code in VCR players, you can stop unauthorized people from making themselves understood by your children. This allows parents to control which auditory input their children may be subjected to, even when not under their immediate supervision. For instance, the “creationist” versus “evolutionist” debate would be soon become a non-issue, saving much anguish and legal expense. If a parent refuses to provide a teacher with the unlock code, that teacher may preach evolution to his hearts content and all the child will hear is pink noise.
Naturally, it will also help keep your children from listening to unsuitable political discourse, since you could use common political party codes so only approved parties could make themselves heard to your offspring.
Since national security and anti-terroris are the most important considerations of any right thinking and properly patriotic person today, I must point out the obvious anti-terrorism features of this system. It will be a simple matter to embed each person’s public key in their passport or ID document, allowing any properly equipped agent to address the individual using encrypted speech to check if he understands it. Connect the ID card to your encrypter, shout “jump” and if the suspect doesn’t jump, he’s either a terrorist or a cripple, or both.
How can we motivate parents to let their newborn child have this implant? I think it is up to the music industry to provide the incentives. Giving the child free access to popular music and rap for its first 12 years of life should make the child very happy. The first generation parents will probably be sceptic and would need extensive reassurance and some extra perks, such as free cable TV and unlimited music downloads for the same number of years.
The movie industry could use the same system, since most movies will not be enjoyable without comprehensible sound, especially since very few people outside Europe and the third world are able to read subtitles. The movie industry could also make the soundtrack even more essential by having the actors express less emotion visually and put more effort into the speech content. It will look a little stiffer, but the quality of the dialog would benefit.
It would, theoretically, be possible to add a cryptochip to the optical nerve to protect visual copyrighted content, but I think that is still too far into the future to be a practical consideration.