Mainstream Media Way Behind on DRM and DMCA
from the behind-by-a-decade dept
The Guardian is a great newspaper and produces a lot of good content. So I was excited to see that it had done a story on Apple, digital rights management, and the future of the music industry. And the piece does a good job of summarizing the problems created by DRM and the business case against using it. However, one thing I found kind of amazing was the part where it notes an industry study suggesting that digital rights management has no effect on “piracy” rates. The Guardian says: “The assertion is remarkable. If DRM does not in fact discourage piracy, then it is merely a nuisance for the user.” But of course the assertion isn’t “remarkable” at all. It’s a point people have been making for close to a decade. What’s remarkable is that it’s taken this long for the industry — and mainstream reporters — to figure out what a lot of us have been saying since the beginning.
But the even more annoying thing is that the article never mentions the DMCA (or its European equivalents). For example, it talks about the Microsoft PlaysForSure fiasco, and about the problems that users will have once Microsoft shuts off its “license servers.” What it doesn’t mention is that laws in the US, UK, and elsewhere make it illegal for third parties to offer software utilities to deal with the problems. That transforms the issue from an ordinary business blunder into a serious public policy issue. Microsoft has every right to shut down its license servers if it wants to. But consumers should have the freedom to download third-party software that would convert their PlaysForSure music libraries into an open format so they don’t have to put up with Microsoft’s arbitrary restrictions. So, for that matter, should customers of the iTunes store. But thanks to the DMCA, it’s illegal to use such tools, and a felony to “traffic” in them.
Unfortunately, while there’s been increasing coverage of the problems with DRM, there has continued to be little real discussion of the DMCA. Which is a real problem, because the millions of customers who made the mistake of purchasing DRMed music would really benefit from the freedom to use their legally-purchased music as they see fit. Indeed, a lot of them might be inclined to exert political pressure on Congress to change the law if they knew that the problem was largely Congress’s fault in the first place. But because press accounts of the issue don’t even mention the legal problems, most consumers assume it’s just a garden-variety technical glitch and the law doesn’t get changed.