Defective By Design

The Defective By Design folks probably don’t mean that title in an ironic way. But the whole idea behind their anti-DRM campaign is itself problematic.

The site should be a general resource of information on Digital Rights Management and why it is in general a bad idea. There is some of this – they do highlight some sources of DRM-free media and highlight DRM-encumbered consumer electronics and software in order to raise public awareness (which is a big issue).

But their 35-day DRM boycott is problematic because of the focus they place on companies like Apple, whose FairPlay DRM is probably the least offensive of all the DRM schemes available. Of the first 14 of the 35 days (they seem to have given up several days ago), two are Apple-related. Far worse cases, such as Spore, are also listed, as well, but Day 1 is “MacBook” and day 11 is “iTunes”.

This is all about control. The folks behind Defective By Design don’t feel a publisher should be able to control their content at all. Content owners feel they should be able to control it however they want. The extreme no-control position unfortunately reeks of piracy and theft, which is the biggest problem with selling the anti-DRM philosophy.

Yes, I like the notion that software, eBooks, and audio/visual entertainment should behave much like physical books or media. I can use it where I want, when I want, and when I’m done, I have the option of selling it to someone else who can use it when and where they want. But some sales control is of course reasonable. Using the physical book metaphor, does not a bookstore have a right to use anti-theft devices such as RFID tags in the books and sensors at the door? There is a social contract that involves the customer and store exchanging money for goods, and walking out of the store without paying for a book is called theft.

There must be a similar idea in digital distribution. Unless the download is explicitly free, the publisher has a reasonable right to have a mechanism in place to control unauthorized downloading. Any defensible anti-DRM stance must be accompanied by a strong anti-piracy stand. Otherwise, one is simply advocating anarchy or theft.

This is apart and separate from free (as in speech) licensing schemes such as Creative Commons. Even Creative Commons authors have a right to earn a living off their art if they can find an audience.

The DRM built into a new MacBook is no different from most laptops – or about any device equipped with a HDMI output. So why pick on Apple? Because they’re a big fish in the content distribution business, and they’re trying to make an example of them. Just as Greenpeace complains about Apple’s environmental record when in fact they build the most eco friendly computers in the world.

The fact is that Apple’s DRM practices are no worse, and in most cases far better, than everyone else’s. Apple has no incentive to put DRM on any media they sell, and in fact Steve Jobs has stated they would love to dispense with it altogether, and a number of titles are available DRM-free in iTunes Plus. The media companies are the ones insisting on DRM. Apple wouldn’t be the world’s biggest music seller without DRM. Go after the labels, not Apple.

The public awareness issue is tough with iTunes because most people will never run afoul of it. With an iTunes purchase, you get to play it back on 5 computers and an unlimited number of iPods (that are synced to authorized computers’ iTunes libraries). And you can deauthorize computers you no longer use.

Yes, there is a risk that Apple could shut down their DRM server and many music collections would be stuck on currently authorized devices. That is a problem. But this is true for many other digital delivery services as well. And Apple allows (essentially) unlimited burning of music to audio CD, which is an effective hole in their DRM scheme.

I suspect that their Apple boycott will mostly be joined by folks who already don’t purchase Apple products. So it is largely pointless anyway. The irrational focus, juvenile language, and amateur graphics of the website don’t help them win any new converts, either.

So get off your ridiculously high horse guys and start trying to talk with people about why DRM sucks and what they can do about it rather than preach at them why halfway decent companies are evil.

One Comment

  1. Posted 25 June 2009 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

    Nice post. Thanks for sharing these tips.

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