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Molecular Rights Management

I'll have more to say about this soon, but I just want to toss the idea out to the noösphere and make it visible.

Molecular Rights Management refers to the panoply of technologies employed to prevent the unrestricted reproduction of the products of molecular scale (atomically-precise, nano-fabricated) manufacturing technologies. The source concept for the term is digital rights management, technologies employed to prevent the unrestricted reproduction of digital products. As of yet, no actual molecular rights management technologies exist.

MRM is likely to emerge for two primary reasons: the continued need for intellectual property controls, so as to prevent a wave "napster fabbing;" and the need for security to prevent the production of controlled goods ("assault rifles," figuratively or literally).

MRM could reside in the design media (the CAD files and the like), such as with single-execution licenses, digital watermarks, and so forth.

MRM could reside in the production hardware (the "nanofactory"), such as with systems that "store" all designs online (no local storage), blacklist systems that a nanofactory would check an input design against, smart systems that recognize disallowed designs as they are being made, even in disconnected parts, and so forth.

MRM could reside in the network, with agents that check the designs loaded in a nanofactory for proper licensing information.

Given that the final results of a nanomanufactured product can, in principle, be used without any need to connect back to the original fabber or design, the impact of MRM on end-users is likely to be less onerous than the impact of DRM has been on the users of digital media. Couple that to the safety/security aspects, and it seems to me that MRM is likely to be broadly tolerated, and potentially even accepted.


Great definition. Making suggestions for MRM in advance is important so that as many people as possible can have input before MM actually arrives.

As a side note, the need to go online could be somewhat problematic in areas without Wifi, like the African savannah. But by then (2010s-2020s), shouldn't it be possible to use a cell phone as a modem?

Color me skeptical. DRM has been a bust; it's unpopular with consumers, and more to the point, it just doesn't work. I don't see any reason why it would work any better with fabbers.

Maybe if fabbers ended up coming out of some corporate lab somewhere, under strict regulatory oversight, it would be possible to attach MRM to them. But I think it's far more likely that it will be more of a bottom-up process, driven by an army of hobbyists; the reprap project or something like it will evolve into machine-phase chemistry fabbers, and I seriously doubt the people who make them are going to bother breaking their toys on purpose (which is what MRM would really amount to.)

I don't doubt something like MRM will be tried. The big players in the economy are going to panic when the technology starts to mature, and no doubt they'll lobby governments around the world to mandate restrictions on what fabbers can build. All that will mean is that most of the wealth generated by fabbing technology ends up taking place outside the formal, legal economy. Who's going to want to pay GM $20,000 to build a car in their own garage, when they can do it for under $100 in raw materials?

As a thought experiment, consider two fabbers, one with MRM and one without. The one with it requires you to pay royalties every time you want to make something (possibly multiple times, if you're trying to put together an original product that draws on previous innovations.) More than likely, it will refuse to reproduce itself unless you pay the company that made it and/or purchase a license from the government. The other fabber, with no such restrictions, would easily outcompete the first in terms of both product made and new fabbers replicated. Now, considering that fabbers without MRM are likely to predate those with MRM by a few years at least, and the odds of MRM ever catching on start looking real slim, about as good as Sony's proprietary music file (whose name I can't recall) outcompeting the mp3.

The same arguments that apply against DRM apply against MRM. DRM only works if every single copy remains wrapped up inside the copy protection; as soon as the DRM on just one copy is broken, it's available to everyone, rendering the DRM worse than useless (it provides no meaningful copy protection, and it ends up being just one big hassle for consumers.) Similarly, MRM would be a millstone around the necks of the law-abiding and/or technologically incompetent, basically just one big drag on the economy, while providing a net gain to security of precisely nil (just like with guns now: anyone who wants one can get one, regardless of what the law says.)

Your post above, Security through Ubiquity, provides a much better model. If everyone has fabbers, then yes, people will be able to make nightmare weapons in their backyards. They'll also be able to build some very impressive defenses, in very short periods of time. That one madman that everyone worries about - the guy who synthesizes a megaplague in his basement so he can wipe out the species because he got shot down by the secretary at the office Hallowe'en party - he's up against an entire planet full of smart, motivated people who have access to exactly the same technology he has.

First off, I've always taken issue with "DRM" (digital rights management) somehow *only* meaning "to prevent the unrestricted reproduction of digital products". The word "manage" is not synonymous with "prevent", and there *are* business models that benefit from "unrestricted reproduction".

So from the outset I think you're coloring this issue in ways that might prevent an unbiased discussion. With all the confusion around existing terminology (e.g. "share"), I'd suggest you break from the current lexicon.

That said, I personally don't see how we'll solve this issue in the current environment. Hence, I tend to agree with Matt.

For me, a big part of my argument against both sides in the DRM debate has been in how little personal responsibility has factored into the discussion.

Everyone's somehow entitled.

Everything should somehow be free.

And most everyone's screaming about "their" rights without giving much thought to anyone else or anything more.

That's the culture we've spawned by allowing two, mostly polar-opposite positions to be formed... if not in fact, than at least in the perception of so many of those involved.

Consequently, a big issue for me in this has been respect. If we're going to find a solution to the much larger problem you're addressing here, it will have to start with mutual respect; with the understanding that there is far more at stake than the often unreasonable entitlement demands of individuals who too often show little regard for anything other than their personal wants.

I see don't see this as a tools issue. I see it as a social issue. Perhaps we should start there.

Just to clarify: this wasn't advocating MRM, just identifying it. As Matt suggests, regardless of how effective something like this would be, it will very likely be tried. Chances are, it won't be called "molecular rights management" by its proponents; my intent, by seeding the argument with this language, was to make sure that the connection with previous efforts at control would be clear.

Sven, you're absolutely right: it's a social issue. Unfortunately, we seem to be in the habit of applying tools first these days.

I'm working on a paper largely arguing against most of this - not only from a user freedom perspective, but from a design and security perspective. Look for a draft on the CTF discussion list in the next couple of weeks - I keep reorganizing and rewriting the darn thing.

Also, if you're into terms, I find "trusted manufacturing", or "trusted fabrication" in reference to "trusted computing" a compelling, if sinister, turn of phrase.

Another thing is that whenever I see the term "molecule", I think of drugs (surprise, surprise). As a result, I connect "MRM" with putting a new twist on and prettying up "the war on drugs".

On the other side, "rights", as used in DRM exclusively focuses on creator rights, instead of user rights (eg, fair use rights). MRM could easily be talking about cognitive liberty, as well, though it probably won't, unless a sufficient buzz is created.

Sorry, I misread the original post. I honestly did think you were advocating MRM, or trusted fabrication as Nato calls it (and yeah, that is a decidedly creepy phrase, even more chilling than 'trusted computing'.)

The link with the drug war is an accurate one. The war on filesharing really is an extension of the drug war (something else I'm dead-set against); a fruitless and counterproductive effort at control for the sake of control. The kind of person who advocates it is exactly the same. The coming cultural war over personal fabrication will bring these issues into much sharper focus, though. Up to now the battleground has been more or less about entertainment (drugs and media.) Fabrication will take it right into the economic foundation of the nation-state, which means that efforts to suppress it by all the usual suspects will be all the more frantic, and all the more dangerous.

Trusted fabrication: ooooh, I like that one (from a language-futures perspective).

Matt, I'm a definitely advocate of a more open-source approach. At the same time, I recognize that as the potential arising from molecular fabrication becomes more evident, there will be a significant effort to reduce the associated risks by reducing the overall capabilities of the nanofactories. Control systems are very likely to be part of that, especially because -- unlike DRM in videos and music -- such systems do not necessarily hamper the ability of end-users to enjoy the resulting products.

"Control systems are very likely to be part of that, especially because -- unlike DRM in videos and music -- such systems do not necessarily hamper the ability of end-users to enjoy the resulting products."

Unless of course we think of these devices as being more like printers than a means for fabricating media delivery mechanisms or other consumable output. Imagine if our paper-based printers censored our words. In Germany, my printer might refuse to print the word "Nazi". In other countries, "democracy" might not make it past the trusteeship(!).

Even if we don't assume these devices make it into individual homes, we can certainly assume there will be service bureaus; tomorrow's (3D) printing shops.

Does it matter where I'm censored? No.

And more to my point above, will it matter why I'm censored? For more and more people, I don't believe so.

Good point, Sven.

Hmm. I wonder how long it will be before someone ships a text printer that can't print the word "Nazi" in Germany. Or the characters for "Falung Gong" in China.

Or a monitor that can't display those words.

"MRM is likely to emerge for two primary reasons: the continued need for intellectual property controls, so as to prevent a wave "napster fabbing;" and the need for security to prevent the production of controlled goods ("assault rifles," figuratively or literally)."

Unlike coping mp3s, however, the ability to unrestrictively copy certain dangerous items might be the best defense. Smallpox vaccines, very dangerous, but still needed. Body armor, very dangerous for your enemy to have unrestricted amounts, but very, very neccessary if your enemy has unrestrictived amounts of assault rifles. Conversely, the ability to pierce body armor with unrestricted amounts of better bullets. Dangerous, but effective.

I think the whole idea of trying to "babyproof" our nanotech really prevents us from dealing with the serious issues as adults.

If we can seriously make cars out of $100 of raw materials, maybe we need to re-allocate resources away from GM and hire these people to solve new problems (like where are we going to park all these cars? And can we do something about this traffic?) instead of artifically maintaining a car company.

Just imagine the problems we could tackle if manufacturing wasn't one of them.

I'm personally not really thinking along the lines of institutionalized offense or defense. I'm thinking more along the lines of some otherwise harmless member of society deciding one day to see if he can engineer something along the lines of brain-eating amoeba simply because it'd be *kewl*... and then, to everyone's horror, succeeding beyond his wildest dreams.

This sort of technology conceivably elevates Darwin Award winners from individuals to whole societies.


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