Today, being Day Against DRM, I thought I would write a little bit about it, and the reasons why I think it is severely flawed, both in reasoning and implementation. DRM stands for Digital Rights Management, but as the campaign at DefectiveByDesign.org points out, a more apt description would be ‘Digital Restrictions Management.’ Digital content providers (e.g. Amazon, Sony, Apple) use DRM to limit the ways you can use the stuff you buy from them (e.g. Music, eBooks, DVD/BluRay). This is why we say that it is defective by design. A decision is made to encumber the content or device with restrictions.
The first thing to note about DRM, is that DRM is not the same as copyright law. Granted, it is often used to ‘protect’ copyrighted works, but it does not respect the rights of you, the person purchasing the works. I believe Karen Coyle puts it best: Where copyright law is an expression of “everything that is not forbidden is permitted,” DRM takes the approach of “everything that is not permitted is forbidden.” This means that you have very little control over how you use what you are spending your money on. Imagine if you went to a pet shop and bought a goldfish, and the seller tells you that you can’t put the goldfish in any other bowl than this bowl, and you can’t give it away when you are bored of it (not that you could possibly get bored of a goldfish!). Now I’m not saying that the bowl the petshop owner provided you with isn’t suitable for the goldfish, but maybe it doesn’t look nice in your living room. Or maybe you move house, and your new abode is furnished with one of those huge tanks built into the wall! DRM doesn’t take into account what may happen in the future, it locks you into specific devices: who says you won’t want to move on from your current Amazon Kindle ebook reader, when a fancier equivalent comes along in the future? DRM will prevent you from transferring the
goldfish ebooks you already own on to it.
This is an unacceptable restriction. Digital technology has opened so many new possibilities that are obvious for all to see, but media providers want to restrict it as much as possible, so that they are in control and can take as much of your money as possible. You buy a physical book, you read it, you enjoy it, you add it to your bookshelf. At any point in the future, you can come back and indulge yourself in the wonder that it brought you when you first read it. You own and are in control of this book. You can donate the book to a library, share it with your friends, give it away, even resell it! The information will never die, the knowledge will be passed on for future generations to enjoy. We are still marvelling at books written thousands of years ago! Now, look at your huge archive of DVDs or BluRay discs, or all of your ebooks that you have purchased from Amazon.com. What will happen in 10 years when optical media devices are unheard of, or your Amazon Kindle dies? What will happen to your digital media? If it is restricted with DRM, it will be unusable. This is detrimental to a free society and free culture! Such a situation could be compared with the burning of the Ancient Library of Alexandria!
Speaking of society and culture, aren’t we all taught at a very young age to share with our friends and neighbours? Sharing is one of the fundamental aspects of community! DRM forbids us from sharing our stuff with the people around us. Content providers (who generally have lots and lots of money), are afraid that people will mass distribute their content to lots of people, and they won’t get any of the money. This is an obvious case of you’re doing it wrong. First of all,I think that’s what copyright law is there for. Secondly, by putting DRM on content, it makes it less appealing to potential buyers; who will try to find an alternative, either in the form of a competitor or even piracy. Yes, I believe DRM promotes piracy. If I can buy from you, and get bundled with DRM-ridden stuff, that I can only play on a certain device; or download illegaly the same album or movie or whatever, without DRM, that I can convert into any other format and play on any given computer; only one of these is appealing. Not only does this inconvenience me, and tempt me to break the law, but you don’t benefit at all. At least if people share files illegally, I suppose DRM indirectly (and unintentionally) promotes sharing!
How can we stop DRM? It’s not going to be easy. I think the main way to stop it, is to make a decision not to use it, not to use any content or device which is bundled with DRM. I realise in some rare situations, it might be necessary to buy something with DRM; but just remember that every time you use it, you are promoting it. When we stop using it, and buy from competitors, then eventually the major players will realise that it’s not such a good idea after all. Another way to aid in its decline is to spread awareness, and that is what I’m attempting to do here. Of course, all of the views expressed here are my own opinions. If you want to find out more about DRM, and find alternative content providers that have more respect for users, check out http://www.defectivebydesign.org/