What is this DRM thing I keep hearing about, part 2

(this page is part of the Family Guide to Digital Freedom, 2007 edition. Please do read that introduction to know more about the Guide, especially if you mean to comment this page. Thanks)

(continues from here)

In the second place, DRM goes right against fair use. The books you bought ten years ago can be moved to a new bookcase, re-bound or get a new cover. You must buy a new copy only if they are destroyed, not if you go on vacation or start wearing glasses. You can sell or lend them. You can buy them in the first place. These same rights must remain (both technically and legally) even with digital works.

It must therefore remain possible to purchase a copy of creative works: otherwise, a very tempting way to legally limit consumer rights would be to stop selling them (or the hardware needed to use them) and only offer leasing of books, music albums, computers, DVD players… In the second place, legally purchased songs, movies or books in digital format should remain usable with any electronic device you own and freely movable from one of them to another, without absurd procedures or fees to pay.

What we have today, instead, is that “as consumers, we can’t decide anymore on what we’ll watch. We watch whatever gets released where we live, at whatever prices they decide”. So much for globalization.

Another big problem of DRM, another trap to avoid, is that it can seriously hurt not only end users but also many artists, as explained in more detail in another chapter of this book.

Last but not least, at the cultural level, DRM prevents preservation of what people find important: under DRM, only what looks important to corporations, because it can be sold times and again, is surely preserved and remains legally available.

How can you recognize and fight DRM?

It is very tempting and (still) very easy to just ignore this issue altogether and keep breaking, while it’s still possible, DRM related techniques and laws. Doing so, however, gives the corporate interests which are pushing DRM the best weapon they could dream of, that is arguments to impose electronics devices which are impossible to use as you want: black, dumb boxes that your children could never use to learn a technical job, create their own music or movies or start a business without bending backwards to some corporation.

With just a bit of self discipline, the right way to fight DRM is very easy to practice; after all, we aren’t talking of food or medicines here. Just ask, before buying CDs, DVDs or any other creative work in electronic format, these simple questions:

  • Is this usable with any type of software, computer, cell phone, portable player…?
  • Is it technically possible to do a perfect, non degraded backup copy without messing with the hardware in any way?
  • Is it possible to move this song/movie/whatever to other discs or devices without any limits or loss of quality?

If the answer to any of the questions above is “no” or “I have no idea”, think at least twice before buying: almost surely, you would get something that you will be forced to buy again in very few years, if you want to preserve it. Note that this remains true even if you buy at a lower price, or get for free, any illegally copied (“pirated”) material.