Why Digital Rights Management (DRM) Matters To You (In 99 Words)

If you happen to follow the very active blog on BoingBoing.net, then you will be familiar with Cory Doctorow, who when not blogging about DRM is usually giving speeches about it around the world. He’s very passionate about the subject, but it is often hard to explain why in layperson terms. This post that came across BoingBoing this morning does a very good job of laying it out, and in only 99 words.

From BoingBoing:

Norm sez: I am in the midst of a ‘haiku essay’ project: each essay is exactly 99 words long, plus one for the title. With the Sony Rootkit, ubiquitous DRM and plugging the analog hole on everyone’s minds, I took this opportunity to make the fair use case in 99 words.

And from Norm:

I love music, movies, and books. I also love technology. I want to use technology to deliver the media I love anywhere, anywhen, with anyone.

This is fair use: I bought it, let me use it. I will tell all my friends about my favorite music. I might play it for them or even give them a digital version of a song. This is evangelism, not theft. This is advertising you cannot buy.

Restrictive copyright is like a vegetarian knife. You bought the knife, but if you cut meat with it, we’ll sue you. Excuse me? Let’s think again.

If you still aren’t sure what this is all about, consider this: The media industry at large (not the news media, but media producers like television studios, record companies, software firms, et.al.) along with their plethora of Washington lobbyists are petitioning congress to pass a number of laws that would give media companies the ability to severely restrict what you do with the media that you buy from them. They aren’t just aiming at the file sharers on the Internet, but at everyday use of media that we all currently take for granted.

Some of these initiatives include broadcast flags – signals to be embedded in television streams that would force devices like VCRs or digital video recording devices (like TiVo) or even your PC to bow to the industry’s whims so they can continue to use their archaic business models. Or so-called CD root-kits: software that is installed on your computer without your consent, and with no easy way to uninstall just by putting a music CD into your CD-ROM drive. The root kit could then impose restrictions to prevent you from using that media as you would otherwise. Not just restricting making copies, but sharing new music with friends, copying media to a portable device like an iPod or sampling part of a song for use in a school project — all the while making your system unstable and insecure (as in the case of the recent Sony rootkit scandal).

This isn’t about bucking the system, or defeating big business. Big business is not inherently evil, nor are many of the people pushing for these restrictive copyright laws. They just don’t understand where that road will take us. If these laws were in place today there would be no iPod or Tivo. Maybe even no VCRs or cassette tapes.

Hopefully you can see that this isn’t just about stopping Internet file-swappers from downloading thousands of albums that they didn’t pay for. This is about the media industry trying to impose restrictions on what you do with media that you purchase legally. They claim that not doing this will stifle creative talent because no one will want to produce content if people don’t pay every single time and way that they will use it. However, this logic has been proven incorrect by the market place time and time again. Let the market drive the industry, not vice-versa.

If you still don’t get it, look for some of Cory’s white papers on his personal website, craphound.com.

Update (11:37 am) – The EFF has a 3-Minute Guide to the Broadcast Flag

* This post was originally published on February 1, 2006 at http://www.csb7.com/blogs/whyblogwhy/2006/02/01/why-digital-writes-management-drm-matters-to-you-in-99-words

2 is not equal to 3, not even for large values of 2.