FTC Town Hall to Address Digital Rights Management Technologies - Event Takes Place Wednesday, March 25, 2009, in Seattle
DRM (Digital Rights Management) technology imposes unfair and illegitimate restrictions on the private use of digital media. It violates every semblance of common sense that one may purchase a physical item from a store and not be allowed to disassemble, duplicate, or otherwise manipulate that product at will within the bounds of copyright. Most egregious, however, are the offensive measures that certain DRM packages take with respect to a consumer's other possessions. DRM products are known to disable CD and DVD burners on the systems which they are installed, employing techniques germane to computer viruses in order to hide themselves from detection and removal. They either provide no option for the consumer to opt out of their installation, or willfully ignore the user's demand not to install themselves. The level of technological sophistication required to even know of DRM technology is so far beyond the capacity of people with better things to do that DRM software can act as it wishes with impunity. For those who even think to read the fine print on the packaging of DRM-encumbered media, no explanation is given that unlike passive copy-protection schemes such as Macrovision with users may (and probably won't) already be familiar, modern DRM is active and harmful to existing functionality. Today, cigarette companies are required to disclose the harmful effects of their products, which are used for their pleasurable effects. Entertainment products encumbered with DRM are similar, they are consumed for their entertainment value, but the additive DRM software has known--in fact designed--effects. Why are DRM-encumbered products not required to display a prominent, legible, plain-English description of the intentional damaging effects of their products? I envision a large sticker warning that "This product contains software that is designed to render useless hardware and software for which you have already paid," or perhaps "This product is not actually yours. You give your money to the checkout clerk but we still own it and tell you how you can use it." Producers are on good ethical grounds to demand that others not violate their copyright. However, DRM technology is used to leverage this legitimate concern into artificial markets. For example, why do some record labels believe that I am not within my rights to play a music track I have purchased on an online music store on my in-dash CD player? The apparent simplicity of "purchasing" an album belies the hideously complex music licensing laws in this country with which the labels justify their requirement that I purchase the same song multiple times for different devices. Likewise, why is the number of computers I own, or how often I rebuild them, of any concern to video game manufacturers? Is it any of their business that I believe Microsoft Windows to be an insecure operating system and therefore periodically re-install it? Electronic Arts certainly thinks so, they have limited the number of times one may install a "purchased"--excuse me, licensed--copy of Spore, a very popular game. I implore the Commission to find that DRM is an illegitimate encroachment on consumer rights. With more people turning to computers and computer-powered devices to enjoy their content, the shift from passive copy protection to active DRM threatens to envelop even more media in forms that are impossible for those without incredible technical skill to comprehend. As it stands, DRM has been demonstrated to rob consumers of the functionality of their existing products. It is time to put a stop to this madness.