FTC Town Hall to Address Digital Rights Management Technologies - Event Takes Place Wednesday, March 25, 2009, in Seattle #539814-00313

Submission Number:
Robert Ellis
Initiative Name:
FTC Town Hall to Address Digital Rights Management Technologies - Event Takes Place Wednesday, March 25, 2009, in Seattle
DRM is a method that seeks to provide hardware and software manufacturers with a protection that the goods they create will be used solely for the purposes intended. This made sense before the advent of the networked Internet age. Before this time, companies hoped to "lock in" a segment of the market, allowing the most "fit" good to win the lion's share of the market. This represented capitalism at its finest, and it played out in the VHS v. Betamax competition of the 80's, and more recently with the BluerayDVD v. HD-DVD debate. Limiting what users can do with their rightfully purchased goods and software impinges upon economic growth and innovation. Our increasingly networked environment requires that products and goods be compatible with one another for the consumer’s ease of use, for new goods and services to reach the market, and for the market to thrive through further innovation existing and newly created companies. To cite an example I've encountered in my own home: Tivo is a Digital Video Recorder (DVR) that allows users to time-shift programs. Basically it's a small computer that serves as a digital VCR, recording shows for later viewing. Over the years, Tivo improved its networking capacity, allowing the user to connect to a home network, and view online content (like Youtube). Users can also listen to music through Tivo if that music is located on a networked home computer. One of the things I personally enjoy is playing music from my home laptop through my home theater using Tivo. Unfortunately, a vast majority of my music collection was purchased through Apple's iTunes. This music is wrapped in DRM, prohibiting the songs from being played on non-approved devices. Tivo and Apple have never struck up an agreement to allow Tivo to play Apple's music, so those files are invisible to the Tivo, and I can’t listen to my music that way. This example shows both the absurdity, and impracticality of DRM. Music is purchased to be listened to, ideally in any manner possible. If I want to play a song that I have downloaded, as a customer I should be able to play that song on any device that is designed to play digital music. Back when tape cassettes were the norm, it didn’t matter who made the cassette tape. If I bought a tape manufactured by Sony/BMG, I could play that cassette on a Sony Walkman, or on a Panasonic home stereo, or in a car’s cassette player. It would have been absurd then if Sony stated that any cassettes purchased from Sony/BMG would only play on a Sony cassette player. That absurd premise is what drives DRM today. There is an argument that suggests that in this networked, digital era, manufactures need to protect the content and goods they create because of the ease with which the goods can be copied and distributed. While this is a real and pressing concern, the answer to this problem is not achieved through DRM. It requires a new approach that cannot rely on practices of the past. This is apparent in Apple’s recent decision to begin offering their entire library of songs without DRM by April,2009. Apple’s approach to this problem is to open access to allow users to play their purchased songs through any MP3 player, or device that can read digital audio files. Apple’s move has already been made by many in the industry (Amazon.com, eMusic, and Walmart). This supports the fact that DRM does not work. If you prohibit what users expect to do, and have the right to do with their legally purchased content, then you are not going to survive in this networked age. Finally, the extent to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) protects DRM is ridiculous. This act covers everything from DRM-wrapped music files, DVDs and even printer cartridges. This protection holds that if a company places a digital protection on an item, any circumvention of that protection– in itself – is a violation of the Act, and is punishable by law. What that means, is that if I own a printer that needs a new print cartridge, and I