I was reading this blog post the other day, and it inspired me to rethink the whole digital rights management issue too.
I used to voice a strong opinion whenever DRM came up in a conversation. Mostly, this opinion was based on some very bad experiences with early-days DRM: given that the red book audio CD standard did not provide any “content protection” features, all the tricks the music labels pulled to hinder CD-copying also made such discs incompatible with the standard. As a result, these “protected” discs would not be read by some transports, or cause lots of skipping, glitches, and clipping. So for me, DRM mostly meant “broken product”.
The other sentiment I had was that since I had bought the CD, it was now my music, and so how dare these people decide for me that I couldn’t listen to it from my PC’s hard disk? Of course this instinctive “ownership sentiment” was a somewhat uninformed one, in the sense that it was ignoring the very essence of copyright. As I was talking to myself about before, basically we (as in “we the people”) have collectively decided to give up (at least in part) our right to copy.
With that sentiment out of the way, and DRM being a built-in feature of many newer data carriers and formats and thus not as broken a product as it used to be, what is it that really bugs me about it? Well, it simply doesn’t work. It’s a broken design because to let people use the “protected” content, you have to give them the means to decode/unlock it. And that’s a bit like jailing someone with the door key hidden inside the cell. Effectively then, it only gets to annoy and hamper all of us legitimate users (as for me, I can’t even play most such “protected” content, as I’m a free software user), while those who are really out to breach copyrights will find a way to do that anyway – by design. DRM makes us suffer for no good reason.
Now, the problem with that is, that we do need some effective kind of copyright enforcement, or so I believe. Perhaps not for music, as technological progress has reduced the costs of producing music to the point where artists can consider giving their work away, for example as promotional material (and many do so). But what about movies, or computer games?
Perhaps I should just pretend DRM is not broken, and get a Playstation 3. I’ll also pretend “they” didn’t just cheat me out of watching those Blu-Ray movies and playing those funky games on my laptop. At least that way DRM won’t be cumbersome and annoying, but will come in pretty packaging with exemplary easy-of-use. It takes a lot of pretending though…