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.

Filed Under: dmca, drm, media


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  1. identicon
    Rekrul, 19 May 2008 @ 10:16pm

    Honestly, that's not my experience. In my experience people tend to know plenty about technical stuff. Then again I'm a 20 year old who mostly interacts with other people about my age

    Talk to some people in their 40s and 50s about computers and technology. I've even met some people in their 20s who were clueless. In fact, some of the most tech-savvy people I know are older ones who were into computers back in the C64/DOS days, where you had to learn how to do things manually if you wanted to use a computer. Today, MS teaches you that things will either work automatically, or you double-click the mouse. Anything beyond that and most people don't know what to do.

    Here's a test for "experienced" computer users; When they're not around, go into the Windows directory and rename "Desktop" to "Desk-top" and rename "Start Menu" to "Start-Menu" so Windows can't find them. I'll bet you $50 that at least half of them would end up taking it to some sort of computer repair store to have it "fixed". Either that, or they'll do a complete system restore to the factory defaults, since the computer is obviously "unusable" in its present condition.

    In the end, a bunch of expensive lawsuits will sort this out, but if companies insist on using license and/or activation servers to allow access to content and/or programs then the companies have to provide a way to permentantly unlock these files if the servers go offline.

    According to most EULAs, the software doesn't even have to work on the day you buy it. They usually guarantee the media it comes on, but the software is provided as-is.

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