Dreaming of Doomsday for DRM

Well, it’s been another wild week here in the Linux blogosphere, what with the post-Natty reverberations, the departure of Canonical’s CTO, and the ongoing open source debacle that is Oracle.

Then, of course, there was Star Wars Day — which, as it turned out, coincided with the Free Software Foundation’s Day Against DRM. Even more than weak Jedi allusions, in fact, Digital Rights Management — or should we say Digital Restrictions Management? — has been a popular focus of conversation over the past few days as a result.

Coverage on The H and PCWorld got the conversation going, and it wasn’t long before the rowdy crowds over at Digg got involved.

‘DRM Does Need to Go to Computer Hell’

“For the consumer it is Digital RESTRICTIONS Management, since it is all about restricting the user and nothing about giving him more rights,” wrote jrepin on Digg, for example. “Just another word trick from the industry to change perceptions.”

Indeed, “DRM does need to go to computer hell,” agreed waldojim in the comments over at PCWorld.

“I am tired of my purchases being limited the way they are,” waldojim explained. “I buy movies on Amazon — and if I don’t download it to my media center that week — I may never be allowed to watch it again. A movie that I paid full retail price for!”

‘Vote with Your Wallets, People’

The movie, book and music industries “don’t want to embrace the digital era,” waldojim concluded. “This is an issue that will continue as long as we allow companies to place restrictions on how we enjoy the content we pay for.”

The only answer, Digg’s augment suggested, is to “vote with your wallets, people.

“Don’t complain about all the things you buy that are DRM’ed, the industry doesn’t care what you think,” augment explained. “Just stop buying them, then they’ll start to care. You may have to go without for a couple games and movies every year but eventually everyone else will start to do the same.”

Will DRM ever go away? Should it? Linux Girl couldn’t resist taking such questions down to the Linux blogosphere’s seedy Broken Windows Lounge. On the way, she bumped into none other than the FSF’s own campaign manager, Joshua Gay.

‘Defective by Design’

“The Day Against DRM was a success,” Gay told Linux Girl. “There was an event held in Portugal, for instance, which also hosted a radio show online to go along with the event. Some people contributed art, others emailed us some new entries for the ‘guide to DRM free Living,’ and there were blog posts from people all over the world.”

The beauty of the occasion “is that it allows people so many different opportunities to take a few minutes out of their day and be an activist,” Gay added. “Some people prefer to do this through actions like tagging Amazon products with the term, ‘Defective by Design,’ while others use the Day Against DRM as an opportunity to strike up a conversation around the water cooler or when they go out to dinner with friends and family.”

More than 14,500 products have been tagged on Amazon already, he noted.

‘DRM Is Their Self-Abuse’

Down at the Broken Windows Lounge, meanwhile, bloggers had plenty of their own thoughts to share.

“DRM will go away as soon as we abolish copyright, which comes right after we all link hands and walk into the sunset singing about buying the world a Coke,” Hyperlogos blogger Martin Espinoza quipped.

“DRM is a device used by producers of content to prevent others from viewing or using the content,” blogger Robert Pogson began. “Clearly these folks are insane and DRM is their self-abuse. I and others will stand well back while they self-destruct.

“Fashion-models don’t wear the burkah; politicians don’t hide in the closet. Why producers of content would want to prevent use is beyond me,” Pogson added. “It certainly does not pay M$ to restrict their OS to people who pay… Why does Hollywood etc. think otherwise?”

‘They Are Not Entitled to My Money’

Similarly, “I really wish companies would just give up,” consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack opined. “You can’t make a dishonest person honest with DRM since they will just not pay for it anyway, and in the meantime customers who actually pay money for things (like me) get punished.

“Why should Blu-ray movies take close to a minute to load thanks to DRM? Why do they expect me to replace all of my European movies when I move back to Canada?” Mack added.

In media companies’ “quest for their ‘rights,’ they have forgotten that they are not entitled to my money and must convince me to spend my hard earned money on them,” he concluded. “Inconveniencing me when I do spend money is not the way to make more.”

‘DRM Is Neither Good Nor Evil’

Barbara Hudson, a blogger on Slashdot who goes by “Tom” on the site, took a different view.

“DRM itself is neither good nor evil,” Hudson opined. “The reality is that not everything can be supported by advertising or selling your personal information to others, and consumers have a choice, including ‘do without’ or using DRM-free alternatives such as the library, advertiser-subsidized TV or games without DRM.”

Fortunately, “technology giveth DRM, but technology also taketh away,” Hudson added. “In the case of eBooks, the readers are becoming so cheap that libraries can now save money by sticking 10 different eBooks on a reader and loaning out the whole reader, books and all.”

‘Everyone Saves, Everyone Gets Paid’

Libraries, then, “can create their own anthologies and save over 95 percent on shelf space while nothing ever ‘goes out of print,'” she pointed out. “Inter-library transfers are a lot easier, and if an eReader gets lost, stolen or destroyed, DRM allows them to invalidate the contents and download them to a new reader.”

Consumers, meanwhile, can “discover new works that are bundled with the eBook they wanted to read,” she added, and “independent writers could benefit by marketing directly to library associations. Everyone saves money, and everyone gets paid.”

All this, indeed, “is becoming possible thanks to ever-cheaper hardware, and, somewhat ironically, DRM,” Hudson asserted.

‘Life Is Full of Compromises’

Meanwhile, “the same ever-cheaper, ever-smaller hardware will make things like locking games to a particular console less of a pain, and people will just get into the habit of bringing the console with them when they visit a friend, or lend the console to their niece for the weekend,” Hudson predicted.

As for music, “at 99 cents a song, there’s enough people buying to sustain the industry,” she said. “That leaves movies, and if you’re willing to wait a while, you can enjoy plenty of them for free — just wait until they come to a TV station near you. A $50 antenna works great for HD TV, so you don’t even have to worry about cable or satellite subscription fees. You can’t get much more free than that.”

Finally, for those who want immediate gratification, “pay the price and accept some form of content protection,” Hudson advised. “Life is full of compromises. If you don’t want the DRM on the copy you ‘bought’ from Amazon, buy the physical disk, and you can even take it to a friends for a ‘movie night,’ or sell it when you’re finished with it.”

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