'Catalog Of Missing Devices' Compiles The Useful Tech Products DRM Is Preventing Us From Owning
from the DRM:-if-it's-fixed,-break-it dept
What has DRM taken from the public? Well, mainly it’s the concept of ownership. Once an item is purchased, it should be up to the customer to use it how they want to. DRM alters the terms of the deal, limiting customers’ options and, quite often, routing them towards proprietary, expensive add-ons and repairs.
But the question “What would we have without DRM?” is a bit more slippery. The answers are speculative fiction. This isn’t to say the answers are unimportant. It’s just that it’s tough to nail down conspicuous absences. The nature of DRM is that you don’t notice it until it prevents you from doing something you want to do.
DRM — and its enabler, the anti-circumvention clause of the DMCA — ties customers to printer companies’ ink. It ties Keurig coffee fans to Keurig-brand pods. It prevents farmers from repairing their machinery and prevents drivers from tinkering with their cars. It prevents the creation of backups of digital and physical media. It can even keep your cats locked out of their pricey restroom.
To better show how DRM is stifling innovation, Boing Boing’s Cory Doctorow and the EFF have teamed up to produce a catalog of “missing devices”: useful tech that could exist, but only without DRM.
“The law that is supposed to restrict copying has instead been misused to crack down on competition, strangling a future’s worth of gadgets in their cradles,” said EFF Special Advisor Cory Doctorow. “But it’s hard to notice what isn’t there. We’re aiming to fix that with this Catalog of Missing Devices. It’s a collection of tools, services, and products that could have been, and should have been, but never were.”
At this point, the collaboration has produced eight nonexistent tech advancements, but the EFF and Doctorow are still collecting and vetting submissions. From a firmware patch that turns Vapid Spyware Barbie into a one-way font of useful information to locking out snooping vehicle black boxes, the Catalog of Missing Items has something for everyone who’s ever taped a Kuerig barcode onto a third-party coffee pod.
One of the biggest losers of the DRM/DMCA arms race is fan subtitles. Amateur creators of subtitles for foreign films have found themselves subjected to multiple DMCA notices, if not actual criminal proceedings. While it’s understandable some production companies don’t have the budget to produce dozens of different subtitles (or localize games), it’s baffling the response is usually to harm people who are helping others. The problem is that adding subtitles means bypassing copyright protection and creating a new file with the subtitles or translation attached. Companies often view this as no different that regular old piracy, despite the added value created by fans of the content.
One of the hypothetical products offered by the “Catalog of Missing Devices” solves this. Called “Panfluent” by its creator, Nicola Ginzler, the software performs machine translation for any language, allowing all internet users to view/hear anything, almost anywhere, in their native language. It also would allow users to suggest better translations and have those added to Panfluent’s databases. It would work across multiple platforms and unlock devices to prevent DRM from getting the way.
Another suggestion would correct a major annoyance with e-readers. It would allow users to select any font they want on any e-reader, freeing them from the “official” fonts handed to them by the manufacturer. This would greatly aid those who love reading, but have trouble doing so with normal e-readers. Default font choices seldom work out for sufferers of dyslexia or other cognitive disabilities. (Another addition to the catalog would force all e-readers to deploy text-to-speech.)
Other suggestions include freeing 3-D printers from proprietary supplies and turning a DVR into a meme factory by providing templates and the ability to capture any image at any time from recordings or live TV.
These are the sort of innovations we won’t be seeing as long as anti-circumvention laws remain in place. DRM lock-in helps no one but the sellers of items and content and prevents purchasers from making full use of products and content they’ve paid for. The law criminalizes tinkering with certain purchases and sets up roadblocks for security researchers. It limits the usefulness of products and further restricts people with already limited access to content, like dyslexics or residents of countries producers have no interest in serving. Worse, every few years the few exemptions granted must be begged for again, lest they disappear forever. It’s a bad law making the world a worse place and cedes far too much control to sellers, rather than those keeping them in business.