Yes, DRM Matters!!!

I have never really gotten into the whole debate over Digital Rights Management, or “DRM,” as it’s usually called. In general, I’m not against the concept: if a product has value and is “for sale,” it’s within the rights of the salesman to take steps to ensure the item is used properly. So long as the technology was unobtrusive, it didn’t bother me. Recently, I’ve been reconsidering. Read on for more.

In general, it’s not unheard of or unacceptable or even uncommon to offer something conditionally. For instance, I think everyone agrees that when you rent a house, the landlord gets to keep a key and specify that you can’t have more than X people living in the house. When you get a driver’s license, you agree to follow a set of rules on the road.

I had no problem agreeing to Apple’s EULA with OS X, promising that even though I owned the software, I wouldn’t install it on non-Apple hardware. I have no problem agreeing to buy an application and install it only once on one computer. I don’t mind having to “activate” software over the internet. So I’ve always thought of myself as not being very “into” the DRM battle. These things didn’t and still don’t bother me, because they don’t limit me from doing things I ought to be able to do.

Recently, I went to a friend’s house to help him backup his data. He had purchased all of his music from Apple through the iTunes store via iTunes on Windows, and here he was – committed to iTunes, period. In fact, his “protected” music was no intrinsically tried to iTunes. Same goes for his older Windows Media (WMA) files. They weren’t something he could copy to Linux or a Mac. They were tied to Windows. And it occured to me: this is precisely what I was trying to avoid! This was why I encoded all of my music and MP3 and Ogg Vorbis. This was why I never bought songs online. This was why I converted so many of my old documents to PDF or XML. I had saved myself from ever going through this nonsense.

Now, many will saw I’m just slow and I’m realizing what many have known for ages, but the fact is, it doesn’t always register until you experience it. Why do we put up with this? Why do we buy things that destroy legitimate use in order to prevent mass piracy that .001% of users might engage in? Why is is acceptable to buy music that limits the platform and method by which we can play it? Why do we accept our own data – whether it be file formats (such as MS Word documents), or media formats (such as copy-protected DVD) that prevents us from accessing our data?

It’s important to distinguish between software limitations and rights management. It’s fair to ensure you paid for software before you can use it. I’m not for thievery, I’m not for mass piracy, I’m not for chaos and anarchy. It’s not legal to buy a DVD and copy it for all your friends, and it shouldn’t be permitted. But it shouldn’t be restricted by software. I don’t believe everyone has a right to free music. But I don’t think it’s fair that if I buy a CD, I can’t rip it.

You may not see it: perhaps your iPod just seemlessly works for you.
You may not feel it: you pop in your DVDs, they play.
You may not notice lock-in: everywhere has Microsoft Word, so I can save all of my data here.

But we’re all experiencing it slowly, as we become more and more dependent upon technology that controls and limits. DRM Day was yesterday, and I’m going into this year heads up about DRM.

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