Activist types don't like that, and as my friend joh3n pointed out the other day, they are all too willing to bend the truth past its breaking point in order to make DRM sound like the devil. Whether their true intent is to just get free stuff or actual moral issues about freedom of information isn't Now, I have to concede a point -- part of the argument that anti-DRM folks present is that DRM can make it hard for you to do things with your owned media that you really ought to be able to do -- I am also frustrated by this. However, by using this as an example of why DRM ought to be abolished in the US is both naive and limited in perspective.
It's naive because politically, railing against DRM is a dead end. The United States economy has evolved over the years, from manufacturing and such to now where the one thing that the US is indisputably good at is producing entertainment that the rest of the world wants. You'll hear US music on the stations of France, see the Super Bowl halftime show broadcast in Japan. When I was in Tunisia the tour guide drivers would swap cassette tapes back and forth so half the time you'd be listening to traditional Arabic music and the other half Madonna or U2. So it is only natural the US government would embrace policy that tries to protect the creations of the producers who make these lucrative exports. Arguing against that is as foolhardy as trying to convince the Saudis that they should stop exporting oil because it's bad for global warming -- arguably true but a fruitless and naive approach.
It's limited in perspective because it is theoretically possible to satisfy both the demands of the media industry (they want you to not be able to share your media with others) and the demands of the public (they want to not be trapped to a specific computer, platform, etc). There is no technical reason why you couldn't have a DRM implementation that allows for portability between platforms so you could buy your song on iTMS and play it on your car stereo on your way to work, and play the same video/song/whatever on your iPod, Mac, Windows, Linux, or even some platform that doesn't exist yet.
So if there is no technical reason why we can't this, why don't we? The simple answer is because the major DRM implementations have been left in the hands of corporations who have an interest in not having these open platforms. The two biggest players in this market are Microsoft and Apple, each of which has an obvious interest in attempting to leverage the proprietary nature of their DRM implementations to provide vendor lock-in. Apple wants you to buy your music collection off iTMS which will then force you to buy an iPod if you want to have portable music. Microsoft wants to keep people locked into Windows, so they let people use any player they want but tie everything back to their Operating System moneymaker to limit people's ability to switch away.
There is another term for the actions described in the previous paragraph: anti-competitive behaviour. Obviously for-profit corporations like Apple and Microsoft have a shareholder duty to try to maximize their various monopolistic power, but this is why governments ought to step in and legislate a limit to that power. Apple should not be allowed to force someone to buy an iPod to play back music they bought via iTMS, if someone else can make a player that conforms to the terms of the DRM but lets them play the music, that should be allowed. Likewise if someone writes a player to be able to play MS DRM content on Linux which again conforms to the rules of the DRM, this should be fully legal under the law. And to top it off, the specifications of these DRM implementations should be forcibly opened so that anyone can write a legal application on any platform they want, so you can listen to iTMS songs on your Sony Walkman and play MS DRM'd videos on platforms that don't even exist today.
Unlike the naive banging-head-on-table-to-get-attention that anti-DRM activists are doing now, there actually are steps that could be taken to satisfy the demands of consumers with the demands of the media producing corporations. All that is required is some political will, which may not come from the current administration but is certainly feasible in the near future. Isn't a feasible goal something better to work toward rather than complaining that the sky is blue until you are blue in the face?
|< From the Meuse to the Neman, From the Adige to the Belt ... | BBC White season: 'Rivers of Blood' >|