FTC Town Hall to Address Digital Rights Management Technologies - Event Takes Place Wednesday, March 25, 2009, in Seattle
I have numerous issues with the use of DRM and similar technologies used to secure or lock software and digital media. DRM is frequently used to impose restrictions on standard fair use and consumer rights that would be available for physical goods. It is usually difficult, if not impossible, to re-sell DRM-locked software or media. It is similarly difficult or impossible to time- and format-shift such content. Most worrying off all is the prospect of DRM-locked content "going dark." This has already happened multiple times (see Yahoo! Music and MSN Music for examples): the content provider switches technology or goes out of business, leaving its consumers without access to their purchased media. In some cases the companies involved have relented following public outcry, but they are not presently legally obligated to do so. Finally, DRM technology has been known to cause malfunctions in consumer hardware and software. Sony's infamous "rootkit" DRM software, distributed on certain music CDs, created large security holes on the computers onto which it automatically installed itself. The StarForce software DRM system has been known to cause hardware malfunction issues with a variety of computer configurations, as well as degrade overall system performance. In light of these circumstances, DRM appears tremendously undesirable from a consumer standpoint. There are non-restrictive content protection measures available to content providers, such as digital watermarking (where identifying information on the purchaser is interwoven into the content data, allowing companies to trace pirating leaks without restricting use). The music industry has voluntarily moved away from DRM over the last year or so - both Apple's iTunes store and Amazon's MP3 store now offer a full selection of DRM-free music. The software and movie industries have not, however. I would at minimum strongly recommend a mandatory full disclosure of DRM restrictions and potential side effects alongside information and advertisement for DRM-locked software and media. In this way, the presence or absence of DRM restrictions becomes a selling point to the consumer, ultimately promoting fairness, competition, and consumer rights.