FTC Town Hall to Address Digital Rights Management Technologies - Event Takes Place Wednesday, March 25, 2009, in Seattle
I think that greater amounts of disclosure to consumers about DRM would be a fine step, but it is really beside the point. The major point that the FTC should be considering is that DRM is not effective at controlling piracy (check the statistics on pirated music or the speed at which new video games are available for free on the internet) while, at the same time, it punishes consumers who have legitimately purchased a product. I personally have purchased video games with DRM so onerous that I could not actually play my copy of the game. Not only that, but many newer iterations of DRM (such as SecuROM, found on many current video games) have install limits that are enforced by requiring the user to electronically submit a code over the Internet (and sometimes to submit personal information along with the code). What happens when these games are no longer current and the company no longer wishes to provide the bandwidth to run the server that checks the code? Is the game that I paid for simply unplayable? What, then, have I actually purchased? Moreover, many companies that use DRM seem to think that any measures, no matter how intrusive, may be used in the name of protecting their intellectual property. Take, for instance, the SonyBMG rootkit that caused a minor scandal for the company in 2005. The DRM measures there surreptitiously installed themselves and caused major damage to many user's computers. The DRM was so difficult to eradicate from a computer that Sony had to issue a special tool so users could delete the DRM --- and then the tool caused a backdoor that hackers could use to exploit users systems. The kicker to that sad story is that Sony's DRM didn't prevent anyone from ripping music from Sony's music CDs. All you had to do was hold down the SHIFT key when inserting the music CD to prevent Windows' AutoRun function from installing the DRM. I do not dispute that companies and individuals have the right to protect their intellectual property. But the consumer must have rights as well. The holder of intellectual property should not be given carte blanche to trample the rights of lawful consumers in the name of the protection of intellectual property. Currently, that is the only thing DRM accomplishes, because it certainly does not actually protect intellectual property. As such, I submit that perhaps the FTC should consider how best to protect the consumer and to leave those who wish to protect intellectual property to devise a method for doing so that is actually effective.