DRM is never justifiable

I don’t agree with any form of DRM (Digital Restrictions Management) being “justifiable” for some forms of media but not audio (presumably because consumers have been acclimated to DRM-freedom for audio). A series of technocratic explanations won’t justify rejecting Apple’s latest attempt to subject more individuals to DRM, only ethical examinations will provide the lasting and consistent critique called for here. Marco Arment’s rationale suggests he is not analyzing this situation from the most important perspective—a user’s software freedom and a user’s freedom to replay the recording at any time, in any location, and completely in privacy if desired. “Piracy” and “theft” are rightly identified as “smear words” as a US judge presiding over a trial for copyright infringement said. Unauthorized copying is no justification for treating users as DRM treats them.

Arment’s technocratic arguments all fail to dissuade anyone who buys his setup from accepting Apple’s upcoming format because it’s so easy for Apple to supply software to overcome any technological barrier so long as one accepts Apple’s software. Arguing from the perspective of what’s good for “the industry”, or guessing about Jobs’s personal motivations that he “also truly disliked DRM, as a tasteful consumer, technologist, and human being, and wanted to abolish as much of it as he could” doesn’t jibe with the long list of restriction-riddled products and services Jobs championed, but more important these arguments won’t convince people to defend their interests in respecting their rights with media.

I suspect Arment’s article comes from the “open source” perspective; a movement which accepts software proprietors because that movement was designed to favor business interests over user’s interests. Free Software activists reject DRM in any form for any work for consistent and sound reasons grounded in ethics and pitched to all computer users; the Free Software movement is a social movement which says that all computer users deserve the freedoms to run, inspect, share, and modify computer software for any reason. Treating users otherwise is not respecting fundamental rights all computer users need to live in a good life in a community of goodwill, cooperation, and collaboration. Open Source advocates, by contrast, accept whatever businesses want to pursue because that’s the entire rationale behind the Open Source movement—start with Free Software, throw away the software freedom and any ethical argument tied to respecting a user’s software freedom, and pitch the rest primarily to business as a development methodology encouraging business leaders to accept the work of programmers under amenable licensing terms such as what the Free Software movement identifies as non-copyleft Free Software licenses. These licenses grant users the freedoms of free software but allow for nonfree derivative programs that deny users software freedom. After all, if “People care about music and convenience, period.” these individuals don’t care about their own freedom to experience the media they’ve obtained whenever and wherever they wish, reselling it if desired, and enjoying the media without being spied upon, right? Such individuals are “consumer“—individuals who are never to be thought of as someone possessing rights like a citizen but instead to be thought of as erroneously using up information. This means there’s no good reason for any consumer to reject Apple’s upcoming audio format. If Arment were more interested in user’s freedoms he would point out to readers how that view serves business interests looking to take away citizen’s rights via DRM. See Defective by Design and Richard Stallman’s personal website for more information; both are replete with examples of how people lose rights with DRM they had with non-DRMed media. The ethical underpinnings of these arguments are far more compelling than any business interest or convenience-based explanation. Some users rights aren’t more important than other user’s rights, we need to fight for everyone’s software freedom and rights to not be subjected to DRM.

Why would a business push again for DRM in audio? Because from their perspective they see a lot of opportunity:

  • people accepting the aforementioned divide-and-conquer argument behind some media being “justifiable” for DRM (as Arment claims). In this greedy framing of the debate, it’s okay that some media (videos, ebooks) exploit citizens and other media have yet to be fought for hard enough. When this issue is framed according to what’s in a user’s best interest, all DRM is unethical. Under DRM we lose rights we had with traditional forms of media (including right of resale and control over our own computers via installing nonfree software). Therefore nobody should purchase from DRM’d media sources and nobody should encourage others to take on DRM’d works.
  • ebook DRM acceptance in libraries and schools are particularly shameful as these places should be led by people who fight for the public interest in preserving their rights. Libraries that carry DRM’d ebooks are apparently willing to sell themselves out to business by lending DRM-riddled ebooks to readers. Schools do the same by encouraging students to use devices like the Amazon Swindle which restricts where students can read their textbooks, tracks users when they read, and allows Amazon to take ebooks away at any time without warning. There are plenty of reasons not to do business with Amazon but any other DRM distributor should be avoided as well. How much can DRM hurt us? Consider DRM’d ebooks in the context of how this could have adversely affected Frederick Douglass. Douglass was a former slave who was taught to read and then taught himself to read more. His first-hand experience as a slave and what he read drove him to become a leader in the abolitionist movement known for his antislavery writing and speeches. Eben Moglen, lawyer and head of the Software Freedom Law Center, further explains the harm DRM could have caused by stifling this intellectual giant.

So with a celebrity shill in U2, Apple is ready to try to re-establish monopolistic anti-freedom controls on audio recordings again. Yet another reason to not do business with Apple. It’s time to fight them.