FTC Town Hall to Address Digital Rights Management Technologies - Event Takes Place Wednesday, March 25, 2009, in Seattle
I'm going to address software DRM specifically, as it's the worst offender, but as DRM is always about retaining control over a product after that product is sold, I think that it can be universally regarded as anti-consumer and should always come with clear warning labels. The trouble with the most recent trend in DRM, in favor of software activation, lies in the perception of ownership - a person who buys something in a store expects to own that thing and to be able to use it whenever and wherever they wish. In this case, that means installing it and using it on any suitable computer at any arbitrary point in the future. Software activation prevents this by requiring that the consumer contact a server operated by the software's publisher and ask permission to use the software every time that the software is installed. Should the server be unavailable, should it be that the publisher has gone out of business, should permission be denied for any other reason, the purchased software is rendered useless. It is my belief that these two things, owning something and requiring permission to use it from the previous owner, are contradictory. Since the question here is about disclosure, the problem can be phrased this way: people who pay money for software that requires activation are currently under the impression that they are purchasing something in much the same way that they might buy another piece of non-DRMed software, or a book, or a lamp. As long as this transaction is made in a store and referred to as a purchase, or done in a setting typically associated with change of ownership, this misconception will persist. The solution has to be a change in language - the transaction can rightfully be called a monitored rental, and the exchange can be an equitable one, as long as it's made clear that what's offered is a rental, good for a certain length of time, and rights holders are held accountable for ensuring that the obligation is met.