Intel’s latest business-model takes a page out of Hollywood’s playbook: they’re selling processors that have had some of their capabilities crippled (some of the cache and the hyperthreading support are switched off). For $50, they’ll sell you a code that will unlock these capabilities. Conceptually, this is similar to the DRM notion that I can sell you a movie that you can watch on one screen for $5 today, and if you want to unlock your receiver’s wireless output so you can watch it upstairs, it’ll be another $5.
I remember the first time someone from the studios put this position to me. It was a rep from the MPAA at a DRM standards meeting, and that was just the example he used. He said: “When you buy a movie to watch in your living room, we’re only selling you the right to see it in your living room. Sending the same show upstairs to watch in your bedroom has value, and if it has value, we should be able to charge money for it.”
This idea, which Siva Vaidhyanathan calls “If value, then right,” sounds reasonable on its face. But it’s a principle that flies in the face of the entire human history of innovation. By this reasoning, the company that makes big tins of juice should be able to charge you extra for the right to use the empty cans to store lugnuts; the company that makes your living room TV should be able to charge more when you retire it to the cottage; the company that makes your coat-hanger should be able to charge more when you unbend it to fish something out from under the dryer.
In this nice business model, we never actually own any property – the companies do. And they get to decide exactly what we are allowed to do with ‘their’ property. If we figure out something else to do that has value, the companies get that value not us.
How about this analogy – a home builder could sell you a house. But if you want to paint it – adding value to the house – you have to give them a fee. Put up a picture on the wall – pay a fee. Remodel the bathroom – pay a fee. We would not actually own the property but simply be a tenant for the real owner.
And if you added value with paying the fee – they could take you to court,
In this model, Intel could assert the right to prevent us from using their chips for anything that Intel has not approved. And it they approve it, then we owe them money.
And it could be a federal crime to do it ourselves. As Cory states:
Moreover, it’s an idea that is fundamentally anti-private-property. Under the “If value, then right” theory, you don’t own anything you buy. You are a mere licensor, entitled to extract only the value that your vendor has deigned to provide you with. The matchbook is to light birthday candles, not to fix a wobbly table. The toilet roll is to hold the paper, not to use in a craft project. “If value, then right,” is a business model that relies on all the innovation taking place in large corporate labs, with none of it happening at the lab in your kitchen, or in your skull. It’s a business model that says only companies can have the absolute right of property, and the rest of us are mere tenants.
If Intel sells us a physical object, than they should have no say in what we decide to do with it, what code we decide to run or not run on it. They should not get to control our physical access to the chip in perpetuity.