FTC Town Hall to Address Digital Rights Management Technologies - Event Takes Place Wednesday, March 25, 2009, in Seattle
I am writing about DRM and electronic books. Some or all of these issues are applicable for other forms of DRM with electronic media. 1. DRM tends to tie ebooks to specific devices. If the device dies, or the ebook owner wishes to replace the device, the ebook becomes useless if either the DRM service goes out of business, or chooses not to continue the DRM service. Examples of this are ebooks from Embiid, which went out of business, and some books sold by Fictionwise which had Overdrive as the DRM service. Overdrive and Fictionwise did not renew their contract, and books sold by Fictionwise could not be modified to be usable on new devices. Some non-ebook examples are Microsoft, Yahoo, and Wal-Mart's music DRM authorization servers all getting shut down. 2. DRM can prevent people from using their ebooks because the device is tied to a key and the owner. For example, EReader ties DRM to a credit card, and if one doesn't access the ebook for several years, one might forget which credit card it was tied to, and the book then becomes useless. 3. DRM is used by companies to lock in usage to their device. Examples of this are the Amazon Kindle and Sony Readers. They do not provide or license viewers of their DRM for alternate viewers. I don't know if this is still true, but I believe Apple was doing this with iTunes and the iPod. 4. DRM limits fair use, by making it hard or impossible to create short clips of the material for quoting, review, or other fair uses. 5. DRM does not respect copyright limits, and automatically disable when copyright expires. For example, an ebook from material originally published in 1923 will have its copyright expire in 2018, but DRM generally has no way to detect that the copyright has expired. Also, some companies falsely claim copyright on public domain works and lock up public domain content under DRM. Other problems I'm aware of: 6. Sony rootkit fiasco, where their music CD DRM installed a rootkit on PCs even if the buyer rejected the license. 7. Several Blu-Ray discs fail to be playable on certain players because the DRM keys require firmware updates, and the firmware updates do not become available for months, if ever, after the Blu-Ray disc gets released. 8. Many forms of DRM are easily broken, so for people with the right technical skills, DRM easily stripped, regardless of the legality. 9. Many pirated ebooks have never had a commercial release, and with scanners/cameras and optical character recognition programs, it is trivial for pirates to scan a book and generate an ebook. For example, pirate ebooks for the final Harry Potter book were released before the paper book was officially released, and of course no commercial ebook has been sanctioned. DRM may prevent some piracy, the fact that most paper books can be converted to an ebook in an hour or two means that DRM is generally irrelevant to the prevention of piracy. 10. Several publisher have found that reasonably priced ebooks with no DRM encourage social resistance to piracy (i.e., response to piracy requests are ridicule and suggestions that they just go out any buy it). 11. Many people who acquire pirated works are hoarders, and would not be buying the work anyway. Therefore, many cases of piracy of software/books with cracked DRM or no DRM have no economic impact to the IP owners. While I have no proof, I suspect a lot of these hoarders only have interest in software with cracked DRM is because of some anti-authority mindset. If so, fewer items with DRM would make these pirates less interested in pirating software/books/music/etc.