FTC Town Hall to Address Digital Rights Management Technologies - Event Takes Place Wednesday, March 25, 2009, in Seattle
DRM is starting to fall out of favor in the music world as the Apple iTunes store is going to be entirely DRM free soon (if it isn't already) and Amazon.com's music store is as well. These are welcome changes being undertaken by the industry to get out of the way of us consumers. Since most music files are encoded with the same handful of audio compression technologies, once the DRM is out of the picture, a wide variety of devices and software can play any of the DRM-free music files purchased from any source. Unfortunately, movies and television have seemingly not learned from the past mistakes of the music industry. Legal online video purchases are so encumbered with DRM that it is a hassle to deal with because each of the various online video/television vendors require their own player software and/or hardware devices, may not allow downloads (requiring I stream it instead - which further limits people without broadband internet), may have self-destruction dates when they stop working, etc. Nothing interoperates and I cannot always view a file I paid for on the device I may want to view it on. (An example is buying a video from Amazon.com, but not being able to watch it on my HDTV using the AppleTV that's hooked up to it. Sure I could lug my computer to the living room and attach a bunch of cables so I could watch it on the big screen, but my AppleTV is network connected, already attached to the TV, and supposed to solve this problem. DRM prevents it from doing so in the general case which seriously limits it's usefulness UNLESS I buy all of my digital content from the iTunes store - which is fine up until that moment when iTunes doesn't sell the content I want to buy!) Each DRM-ladened video purchase also carries with it the risk that the parent company may go out of business, not update their player software for new versions of my operating system, or arbitrarily decide to deny me authorization the next time I try to play the file because their server is down or something. It's crazy. When I buy a car, I expect to be able to open the hood, replace parts, tinker, repaint, etc. as much as I want. It's my car, after all. DRM, on the other hand, is like having a car where nothing can be customized, nothing is really mine, I cannot resell it, and I only lease the right to drive it from the manufacturer. Worse still, because of the nature of digital content, the DRM car analogy could require one specific brand of gasoline, perhaps have special wheels that only work on certain roads, and have limits on how often or or fast I drive it - even on private property. It's ridiculous. I think the only reason DRM has survived as long as it has is because for most people, computer technology is not as accessible to them as, say, going to Auto Zone and buying new custom mud flaps they can easily install on their pickup truck. Too many people have generally been oblivious to what is possible with digital technology and mystified by it's operation. When the iTunes store says you can only watch the show using iTunes, they accept that because they don't really understand that the restriction is arbitrary and need not exist. Those of us who are computer savvy have been butting heads with the limits of DRM on legal digital content since the beginning. DRM tries to forcibly limit how I use MY data on MY computer systems. It just feels wrong. The laws and ethics of copyright are one thing - but having a system where breaking the law is itself a crime (in addition to the original law that was broken) is just plain redundant and stomps all over the various legal ways I may want to use content I bought and paid for.