Digital Rights Management is a set of technological measures designed purposefully for restricting the user from exercising his right respecting works (generally artistic) in digital formats. In other words, are software features designed for making devices to not work for people, but for big media companies. It was made supposedly with the purpose of enforcing copyright by avoiding illegal copying. However, it does more harm than good, and here is why:
DRM-ed media comes with less freedoms than DRM-free ones
Consider music, for example. With music coming in CDs or DRM-free digital download, you can buy it anonymously, then the copy is yours. You can lend, give or sell it, even storing a personal copy of it. Now, let’s compare it with Spotify (fairly typical):
- You must get a premiun account, so you need to identify yourself giving your real name and credit card number
- You can’t save song for listening them on the reproducer of your preference because of DRM-ed Spotify software, even if it’s legal under the current copyright law.
- You can’t copy, lend or sell the songs you listen on Spotify without giving your account and device to the other person, something that you can do perfectly with DRM-free music like the one that comes in CDs or available for digital download.
- If Spotify stops offering his (dis)-service, your own music library will disapear (This already happened with Microsoft e-book store. Microsoft gave refunds to its customers, but what it did is like coming to their homes and take away their books giving them a monetary compensation. What Microsoft should have done is to give their customers pdf files of the books they bought).
DRM requires proprietary software and mass surveillance for applying it
DRM is only possible in the long-term if some parts of the DRM-ed system are secret and unmodifiable from users, which is bad for users’s freedom. If the software that implements DRM is free it could be modified for deleting the bad DRM features and then people could use the modified DRM-free version of the software.
DRM destroys competition and free trade
Hasbro released new toy guns that only shoot darts sold by it. That elevates the cost of hosting a Nerf war, because of DRM. If Hasbro wants to increase the sales of its darts, then it should make better darts than the competition. That’s how the free market works.
Similar practices are applied in printers by refusing to work with third-party catridges, many times cheaper and/or better. And in Oculus Rift games to avoid ports for other platforms. If Facebook, the owner of Oculus, wants to increase Oculus Rift sales, it should make a better console than the competition.
DRM interferes with the right to repair
This article explains that some features in the new IPhone models won’t work if the user replaces the battery from an independent repair company. And it’s worse with MacBooks. Apple should stop imposing DRM and start selling true replacement parts.
DRM punishes who bought software and media legally
This infographic shows how people get attracted to obtaining illegal copies.
Legal copies of Metal Gear Solid 4 for Mac are unplayable because the game requires a constant internet connection to a specific server that was transferred to finance in late 2016. Unauthorized copies don’t have this requirement.
DRM-ed media are damaged goods
You may think: “Well, it’s better to have DRM-ed media than not having media at all”, but producing media and putting DRM on it are two different things. It’s perfectly possible to do the first without the another. Moreover, DRM is a set of techniques designed intentionally for years, so we can’t talk about an accident. Hence, it’s a form of oppresion that we must reject.
“DRM is necessary for artistic production. Without it, there will be no movies, books, etc!”
Legal barriers for breaking DRM
In this article I showed how DRM attacks users’s freedom and makes the world a worse place. But fighting DRM is particularly difficult due to laws like the DMCA in the United States or the EUCD in France, that makes illegal to develop, distribute or even use software tools for bypassing DRM. A Russian programmer, Dmitry Sklyarov, was arrested in 2001 when he was in the US to speak at a conference, because he had written such a program in Russia, where it was legal to do so.
Laws that forbids breaking DRM also make harder to discover malware in proprietary software. For example, the DMCA and the EU Copyright Directive make it illegal to study how iOS apps spy on users, because this would require circumventing the iOS DRM. Anybody should have the right to audit publicly available software, including independent researchers, not only selected organizations.
The DMCA is so restrictive and authoritarian that the US Copyright Office does temporal exemptions to some rules, but the only sustainable solution for solving the problem is to abolish DMCA.
What can we do?
Abolishing DRM will be very hard, but we haven’t lose the fight yet! We can recover the control over our copies of media by rejecting DRM-encumbered products and services, by choosing DRM-free media, by asking companies to stop implementing DRM, and by starting businesses that respect users’s freedom. Others will choose to practice civil disobedience. But there is no need to be radical, anything you can do for help to the cause is useful for avoiding a future in which our devices serve as an apparatus to monitor and control our interaction with digital media.