Many common types of software security systems only function because they assume that nobody has the time, interest, or energy to use brute force approaches to crack them. Take your phone, for example: it (probably) has a four digit number to unlock it. A human would likely not bother to try out all 10,000 combinations since it would be super boring, but robots don't get bored, so this sort of security doesn't dissuade them.
Digital Rights Management (DRM) often works the same way: by making it time consuming for people to copy things, the idea is that people just won't copy things. And it works. The two key words there, though, are "time consuming" and "people," and if you change "people" to "robots," time consuming ceases to be a factor. And so does the DRM, as this creative little LEGO robot shows.
We probably shouldn't say that this robot can "crack" the DRM on an eBook. Rather, it avoids it. The distinction is important, because while cracking might be illegal, avoiding doesn't seem like it should be. Designer Peter Purgathofer, an associate professor at Vienna University of Technology in Austria, doesn't really intend for this to be used, however. It's more of a statement:
[Peter] says he got the idea for using the Kindle and the Mindstorms kit for something neither were intended for. “It ended being a reflection on the loss of long-established rights when you buy an e-book. You make a copy of that book, but at eye-level, so that the result is not a stack of paper, but another e-book.”It’s not intended as a statement against e-books, which he loves, he says, but rather what he considers a “dramatic loss of rights for the book owner. “The owner isn’t even an owner anymore but rather a licensee of the book,” he says.
I'm now kind of wondering whether it would be illegal to sell this robot (or instructions how to build it) as an "eBook copying tool," or perhaps to be less inflammatory about it, as an "eBook backup creator." And even if it is illegal, is there anything that anyone could do to keep you from taking pictures of your own screen?