Why DRM is bad for you  

Thursday, April 26, 2007

APC Magazine has an article up about Why Vista is defective by design. His arguments against DRM I find especially convincing:

Finally, all of this could be averted if the flawed reasoning that people are inherently criminals was actually thought about for a picosecond -- if the majority of people really were thieves, there isn't a business on this planet that would still be standing.

The fact is, while piracy is real (and is real eveywhere -- you can bet the local fruit shop loses a few apples a week), that the majority of the human race will buy products rather than steal them, because we all have an understanding that the world just wouldn't work otherwise.

The article also included a link to a Forbes article* which included this argument:

What the entertainment companies are finally realizing is that DRM just annoys their customers. Like every other DRM system ever invented, Microsoft's won't keep the professional pirates from making copies of whatever they want. The DRM security in Vista was broken the day it was released. Sure, Microsoft will patch it, but the patched system will get broken as well. It's an arms race, and the defenders can't possibly win.

I believe that Microsoft knows this and also knows that it doesn't matter. This isn't about stopping pirates and the small percentage of people who download free movies from the Internet. This isn't even about Microsoft satisfying its Hollywood customers at the expense of those of us paying for the privilege of using Vista. This is about the overwhelming majority of honest users and who owns the distribution channels to them. And while it may have started as a partnership, in the end Microsoft is going to end up locking the movie companies into selling content in its proprietary formats.


Unfortunately, we users are caught in the crossfire. We are not only stuck with DRM systems that interfere with our legitimate fair-use rights for the content we buy, we're stuck with DRM systems that interfere with all of our computer use--even the uses that have nothing to do with copyright.

I don't see the market righting this wrong, because Microsoft's monopoly position gives it much more power than we consumers can hope to have. It might not be as obvious as Microsoft using its operating system monopoly to kill Netscape and own the browser market, but it's really no different. Microsoft's entertainment market grab might further entrench its monopoly position, but it will cause serious damage to both the computer and entertainment industries. DRM is bad, both for consumers and for the entertainment industry: something the entertainment industry is just starting to realize, but Microsoft is still fighting. Some researchers think that this is the final straw that will drive Windows to the competition, but I think the courts are necessary.

That's scary. It's not sedition-act-blocking-my-political-free-speech scary, but it is an infringement on free rights. The entertainment industry has been able to spin DRM as copy protection - their right to protect their property. But when the property becomes yours, when a sale happens and money exchanges hands, who is protecting your rights?

Recently Shelly Batts ran into an issue when she posted a figure from a science article that she was reviewing. Under fair use she clearly has the right to cite the article, including graphics, as long as she gives the proper credit. Yet she was threatened with legal action by the publisher if she didn't take it down immediately.

She worked around the problem by creating her own figures in Excel and posting them. The publisher hasn't complained so far. Never mind that this is taxpayer-supported research or that the article was clearly posted in order to educate the community and explain why the media reports on it were inaccurate. I would call her article a benefit to the authors of the article and by proxy the publishers.

But when it comes to digital protection many companies don't care if they shoot themselves in the foot. The internet is the wild west. And they feel like they have to police it. When they step over the line and start policing things they have no right to, it's our job to make sure they are kept in check.

An individual often does not have the money or influence to fight a large company. But people can make a difference if they're willing to take a stand to preserve their rights. But most people see it as just a minor inconvenience.

What will it take to make people realize that DRM is not just bad for them on a personal, day-to-day level, but also bad for industry in general?

* The link to the Forbes article wasn't resolving for me. I was able to find it here.

Thanks to Dogic for the heads up.

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