DRM is always anti-user

In a discussion of Defective by Design’s DRM boycott on Boing Boing, David Mershon asks, “I understand why they feel the need to do this, they consider phrases like “Digital Rights Management” to be Orwellian doublespeak, but I think this kind of private language prevents effective outreach. Why not just say “DRM” and be done with it?”

No user likes DRM. What Cory Doctorow said about Sony is really true for all DRM: “No Sony customer woke up one morning and said, “Damn, I wish Sony would devote some expensive engineering effort in order that I may do less with my music.””. Expanding the DRM acronym (to mean “digital restrictions management” or “digital rights management”) is a matter of what side you’re on. If you’re on the user’s side, the side that says you ought to be able to treat stuff you bought as your own, you’ll not forget that “digital rights management” is “private language” as well. It’s language that exists to promulgate the publisher’s perspective instead of the user’s perspective thus reframing the debate to getting us to believe that our needs are less important or completely ignorable. The thing that makes DRM interesting to publishers is how well it can restrict users from doing what users want to do. Hence digital restrictions management is a more honest way of looking at what DRM means.

I don’t find that this language prevents outreach at all. I find that if you take the time to learn what the viewpoints are and explain them to those who don’t know, people will listen. I understand software freedom and I come across DRM restrictions every day in my work. When my clients at work are adversely affected they ask me what gives—why can’t they work with the media they legally obtained as they had in the past when they bought books, LPs, and cassettes. I explain how DRM works to them using examples of what they just experienced and they understand why I expand DRM to “digital restrictions management” and listen when I explain how to seek out computers and media that are DRM-free.

New Mac hardware won’t display certain movies on all video display hardware. Apple uses DRM to restrict the user from sending the video to any device the user wants. The details of the restriction—exactly which monitors will work as users expect and which won’t—misses a larger point: when you run proprietary software or accept hobbling hardware who is in control of your computer, you or the proprietor? I should be able to play my media on any of my devices anywhere at any time for any reason. I should be allowed to transcode my media to anything I like without restriction, sync to any of my devices I like using any free software I want (another activity Apple apparently doesn’t like), and make as many copies for my own use as I want including unhobbled copies without encryption, region coding, and so on (in order to maximize the chances I can play it back later). I should be allowed to share the fruits of my knowledge with others. I should be free to take full advantage of my fair use and first sale rights (George Hotelling’s experience illustrates this is hard with DRM and ultimately only possible with the proprietor’s consent). Apparently Apple is down with Hollywood’s program on all of this and consumer analysis typically interprets events as if it’s my job to look out for Apple (“what are they gonna do?” as another poster said). Their business goals are not in my interest nor are those goals my responsibility or concern. So I won’t give them my money.