Digital Rights Management technology, or DRM, is the name given to software that is meant to allow corporations to keep control over their particular niche of the technology market by controlling what users can do with digital media. First generation DRM software controls copying, while second generation DRM controls how digital content can be manipulated (executing, viewing, printing etc).
DRM is most commonly used by the entertainment industry to stop ebooks being copied, for example, or in online music stores. The most common techniques are the use of encryption or embedded tags, although a prevalent method is to simply use restrictive licensing agreements – that are used as a condition of entering a website, or have to be agreed on before downloading a particular software, for example. The computer games industry also uses DRM to limit the amount of instances of a game that are available, usually to limit its installation to one or two PC’s.
DRM often comes under fire for “impeding innovation, security, and basic user rights and expectations, while failing to inhibit copyright infringement”, and now the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has announced that it plans to banish DRM once and for all, and have commissioned Cory Doctorow (editor at Boing Boing and a vocal DRM opposer) as a special consultant in what the EFF is calling mission ‘Apollo 1201’, aptly so-called because of the parallels drawn between the impossible mission of sending man to the moon, and that of eradicating DRM once and for all (referring to Section 1201 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) .
A few examples of ways in which DRM tramples on the consumers toes are given by the EFF on its website, and are as follows:
- Bought an ebook from Amazon but can’t read it on your ebook reader of choice? That’s DRM.
- Bought a video game but can’t play it today because the manufacturer’s “authentication servers” are offline? That’s DRM.
- Bought a smartphone but can’t use the applications or the service provider you want on it? That’s DRM.
- Bought a DVD or Blu-Ray but can’t copy the video onto your portable media player? That’s DRM.
Add to this the fact that DRM allows corporations to conduct mass surveillance over peoples’ media viewing habits, and you instantly have quite a big list of the detrimental effects that DRM is having on consumers. And there is plenty of evidence of corporations abusing the power of DRM technology.
On December the 2nd a legal battle started between 8 million iPod customers and Apple Mac, because of Apple’s use of DRM to lock the MP3 players’ customers into buying content from iTunes store only, a move which The Free Software Foundation (FSF) feel violated users rights by effectively imposing a monopoly. In 2006 corrupt use of DRM was brought into the mainstream consciousness by the FSF’s campaign “defective by design“, which immediately started raising awareness of the problems with Apple’s use of DRM in the iPod. Before the case started, the plaintiffs’ lawyer Bonny Sweeney told The New York Times that,
“We will present evidence that Apple took action to block its competitors and in the process harmed competition and harmed consumers”
The case itself has been of wide interest not only because of its DRM subject matter and large possible damages (around $350 million) but also because of Steve Jobs’ direct involvement (what Mr Jobs said in emails is of primary importance to the case, despite his having passed away 3 years ago). The following quote (which has been making the rounds on the internet) from an email Mr Jobs sent to other Apple executives in 2003, definitely shows that there was intent on his part to lock iPad users into using iTunes music store, while limiting their ability to use new markets as they became available,
“We need to make sure that when Music Match launches their download music store they cannot use iPod,” he wrote. “Is this going to be an issue?”
DRM has been a contentious issue for quite some time, and with Cory Doctorow at the helm of opposition to it, perhaps we will see its demise sooner rather than later. The mission statement of Apollo 1201 is to have it gone within a decade, and here at BestVPN we wish Cory the best of luck!