FTC Town Hall to Address Digital Rights Management Technologies - Event Takes Place Wednesday, March 25, 2009, in Seattle
I welcome this opportunity to comment on an issue I feel has the potential to do a great disservice to not only to American consumers, but also to America as a whole. The Constitution grants Congress the right to set, for a limited period, certain rights to use and profit from ideas via copyrights and patents. However, starting with the First Amendment, these rights have been limited by the concept of "Fair Use" where individuals, or even groups may make certain use copyrighted materials without infringing on the copyrights of the original authors. This doctrine of fair use has been maintained for more than 200 years and until recently technology has helped broaden how individuals could exercise their right to fair use. Unfortunately, now technology, in the form of DRM is effectively stripping Fair Use rights from users of technology. Up until recently, buying a copy of a book, or a movie or a piece of music meant that you were only limited by the law in how you could use that copy of the media, you could lend it to family or friends, or in the case of movies and music, you could listen to it on the device of your choosing. Now, unfortunately, music, movies and even books (in electronic form) are being tied to specific devices. Unfortunately, it is not even always clear at the time purchase of said media (specifically with respect to movies on DVD) whether said media can even be played on the devices the consumer already owns. Now, the questions is what benefit do companies actually gain from implementing DRM? The most compelling argument for DRM is that it stops or at least restricts piracy of copyrighted material and therefore maintained the incentive necessary for the production of new material. If such was actually the case, then one might concede that cost of DRM actually was worth the benefit. Unfortunately, even a casual examination of the internet can show that almost any media one could want can be obtained illegitimately via peer-to-peer networks. Further, as a computer professional, I can attest that any DRM scheme, that still allows the end user to access the material, can be circumvented by a group dedicated programmers. Even if perfect DRM was possible, lower quality copies could still be made through other means. Thus, tech savvy pirates will never be stopped by any sort of DRM and since the profit motivation of pirates is great, they will always end up being tech savvy in the end. Ultimately, the only real benefit that is gained by the producers of copyrighted material is the limitation it places on consumers. DRM'd music, movies and ebooks, all but guarantees that shelf life of a particular product they sell will be limited to device it is sold for and it greatly limits the ability to share that material with others. The problem is that these gains are an erosion of "Fair Use". These gains also cost the consumer real money as they must often buy new hardware should they wish to view newer material (since, for example, newer DVDs don't always play in older DVD players because of DRM). What is worse is that the erosion of "Fair Use" and other actions by the producers of media are such that the perceived cost of media has risen to such a degree that an entire generation of people are starting to believe that circumventing DRM and/or downloading illegal copies is perfectly acceptable. By maintaining laws that are seen as such a burden by the common citizen, our nation is establishing a citizenry who has little respect for copyright law or potentially any law. Please do not misunderstand me, I am for the vigorous defense of reasonable copyright laws, unfortunately current laws are not reasonable and as such are becoming a serious burden to the very people whom those laws claim to serve.