private citizen (author)
FTC Town Hall to Address Digital Rights Management Technologies - Event Takes Place Wednesday, March 25, 2009, in Seattle
I would like to address the FTC's questions regarding DRM, from the perspective of a producer of copywritten materials, and as a consumer of same. As an author and independent seller of e-books, I have studied the issue of DRM as it impacts sales and usage of my products. DRM has been used almost universally as a way to discourage the unauthorized copying and dissemination of copywritten materials, presumably to protect expected profits to the producer. The evidence in the field, however, indicates that DRM has little to no impact on unauthorized copying and dissemination of copywritten materials, due to the fact that any DRM system can ultimately be circumvented or broken (and generally is, almost immediately upon being released). As DRM is unable to fulfill its primary objective, it is at root a useless tool. As an aside, DRM has also been used to "lock" customers into specific electronic formats, the intent being to guarantee a customers' repeated patronage of a specific source of content, and to prevent the consumers' ability to convert an electronic file to another format of preference. I submit two facts: One, that this intent is also pointless, based on DRM's ultimate inability to stay secure (as outlined in the previous paragraph), and Two, that attempting to restrict a consumer's ability to transfer a purchased electronic file to a more convenient format is essentially counter to existing laws governing Fair Use, as well as the Federal guidelines related to Accessibility to those with disabilities, to wit: DRM makes it difficult or impossible for those with disabilities to convert DRM-applied electronic files to formats that will allow them to access those documents. By this measure, DRM is essentially counter to Federal regulations, as well as being ultimately ineffectual. As a bookseller, I have made my books available in multiple popular e-book formats, and without DRM on these books. Based on my experiences, and of the experiences of other booksellers who practice similar selling methods, consumers not only prefer such selling techniques, they actively seek them out over DRM-laden products. They buy products, and as they appreciate the openness of the sellers' sales methods, they encourage others to shop with them, and discourage the idea of unauthorized copying and dissemination of their works. After all, a bookseller who cannot profit is soon a nonexistent bookseller, and those who appreciate that bookseller's product have an incentive to see them succeed. This generates healthy sales for booksellers such as myself, and actually minimizes losses through theft as effectively as any DRM system (not completely, but there will never be zero theft, and it is pointless to pursue such an impossible goal). Finally, as a consumer, I have witnessed firsthand the advantages of being able to buy an electronic file from one source, and convert it for use in another preferred format, through the exclusion of DRM. Electronic files and their delivery systems are not equal, and personal preference assures that individuals will choose a favorite format to enjoy their electronic files. The more enjoyable the experience, the more likely a consumer is to buy more products that can be enjoyed in that way. With the exclusion of DRM, a customer has access to more electronic materials, from more sources, that can be converted to their preferred format as desired. Therefore, excluding DRM and allowing electronic files to be converted to the format of choice is an excellent way to increase sales of electronic products from any and all sources, and increase their customer base accordingly. So, the exclusion of DRM, which is at root an ineffective way to prevent theft, and a format-restricting mechanism that is counter to Federal guidelines for accessibility, effectively increases product usability, increases sales, and heightens enjoyability of the product for customers. There is nothing, in contrast, to suggest any benefit to DRM as a product control tool, and therefore, it should be abandoned.