Way of the Monkey
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How Not to Argue About DRM Wed, 04 Oct 2006 12:30:09 -0400

Do people really want DRM to go away? Or do they just want all of the business malpractice surrounding it to go away? Or do they just want the idea of intellectual property in artistic media to go away? These are the things that reading blog posts, "articles" and the Defective by Design ramblings, leaves me to question. None of the arguments actually involve DRM as a technology. They are all about how people don't own the music they buy off of iTunes, or how you can't play the songs you buy off iTunes on other devices than the iPod. Apple has always claimed that iTunes is purely a loss leader to sell the iPod. You cannot use content purchased from the iTunes store on another device, and you can't use DRM protected content purchased from a competing store, on the iPod, not due to DRM, but due to the fact that iTunes and the iPod are not fully DRM compliant. They contain enough DRM to satisfy what Apple wants to do with them, and not what you want. So, I wrote this entry to point out a few flaws with the whole anti-DRM scene's arguments.


    One of the foremost arguments against DRM is often that of ownership. One often likes to believe that anything they pay for, is something they own outright. However, there is a problem with this concept as it relates to intellectual property. When you pay for intellectual property, you are paying for a service, and not for goods. These services may be delivered via goods, such as a musical performance on a CD, however. But buying a CD is pretty much the same as buying a DRM protected AAC from the iTunes Music Store. You're paying for the privelege to listen to recorded music, and not the ownership of the music itself. You still do not have the rights to go and redistribute the contents of the CD in another format. You can't make copies and give them away to your friends. You can't broadcast the music over the radio or internet. Fair Use does dictate, however, that you may make a back-up copy for your personal use. It allows you to convert the CD to digital format so that you can listen to the music on your iPod, Rio, Walkman, or other device. What is interfering with this right to fair use, is the iTunes software, and not the DRM technology.

Inability to Re-Download

    Another argument I see come up often, is the inability to re-download purchased music from the on-line store. Again, this is no different than buying a CD from Target or anywhere else. If your CD acquires scratches over time, or you lose it, you can't just go to the store and pick up another copy for free. You must purchase another CD. If you lose your copy of the downloaded music file from the iTunes store or wherever you bought it from, and you don't have a back-up, you're going to have to go buy another copy. But guess what. At about 1 USD per song, the average album is cheaper to replace when purchased in digital format. That's right, CHEAPER. And to top it off, the tracks are separate, so if you lose only one, you only have to buy one, and not the entire CD again.

DRM Violates Privacy

    Again, this is just blatently false. There is absolutely nothing in the DRM 2.0 specification requiring software to violate a user's privacy. In fact, the specification is totally open, and is based on other open specifications. The specification does allow for extensibility in the format and protocol, which malicous developers could use to violate your privacy, but this is not a malice of DRM itself.

Digital Restrictions Management

    Just more political propaganda here. With DRM, you can actually protect the content on your devices, and it helps to prevent people from stealing your personal data. DRM is a great technology for letting users encrypt and secure their own data, on a per-file basis, helping to prevent data-theft. The term restriction only applies to DRM in the sense that it allows you to restrict the rights of others to view your data, through the means of encryption and secure certificate authentication. The fact that some vendors restrict your rights as they do, and label it with the term DRM, is just a contribution to the confusion factor here. What they are using is not accurately labelled, and does in fact restrict users, and violate Fair Use. This is vendor lock-in, not DRM. This is what people have been complaining about Microsoft doing.

All in all, I agree with the arguments against Apple and others, who are in fact violating the privacy of users, their rights to Fair Use, and confusing the public with the term DRM, when all they are doing is classic vendor lock-in techniques. I for one want DRM to be available for me to peruse. I want to be able to secure my content and data from theft. And I want to be able to view and listen to the content that I have acquired through stores and the internet, on any of my devices. Does this mean I should boycott DRM? No. It means I should boycott Apple. It means I should boycott other vendors that use similar techniques to prevent me from viewing or listening to the data that I paid them for the privelege to view. It means that the Defective by Design argument, is ironically, defective by design. They shouldn't be passing out flyers and spreading useless propaganda. What they should be doing is organizing a class-action lawsuit against the companies implementing vendor lock-in, in this way. This is the same crap we (the world) have been taking Microsoft to court for, for the past decade.

Ninja Monkey icon based on face-monkey icon from The Tango Project