Defective By Design: DRM Takes Away Your Rights

Today is officially Day Against DRM and it’s a good thing too.  Many times I feel the worst tragedies in human history were complacently faded into without a fight or really any one even noticing.  Only then, when things get so horrible, do people finally stand up and say enough is enough.  DRM or Digital Restrictions Management very well could end up as one of these.  On the surface, it seems like a good idea, right?  Protect the author.  Let him get his due.  Yada, yada, yada.  The problem is that the former argument is just a straw man.  DRM is much, much more than that.  It is a purposeful attempt by people to control things they don’t have a right to control: what you do, when you do it, how you do it.  For instance, do you have the right to watch a DVD you purchased?  Of course you do.  You purchased it.  You can legally watch it as many times on as many devices as you want because you purchased it.   The courts have shown this time and again.  Period.

The next question then is, can you?  And with DRM the answer is a resounding NO!  You can only watch it in ways that the publisher has approved and can monitor even if you have the right to do otherwise.  Even with DVDs you must decrypt (encryption is the first stage of DRM) the movie to watch it.  Any attempt to decrypt the data from an unapproved, unlicensed device (most open source DVD decryptors) is illegal.  This is because by purchasing it, you are implicitly agreeing to the publishers license agreement.  Did you know that?  Did you understand that?  Does that make sense?  I don’t think so.

This may all seem harmless at the moment, but the thing is that with each version you see more and more of our rights being taken away.  Look no further than the  progression from CDs (no DRM), to DVDs (encryption), to BluRay (massive DRM measures) to see this in action.  The only way to ensure our rights in the future is to make sure there is no “rights management” to control.

The thing that always surprises me is that the church has traditionally been a champion of freedom.  But as far as I can tell, the church is basically silent on many of these “freedom” topics whether open source software, creative commons or DRM.  Why is that?  Our speech is more and more being delivered through digital mediums.  Those digital mediums are more and more being controlled, monitored, and restricted through DRM.  So while you may not notice now, we are digging a huge hole for our future generations.  We have a huge inheritance of freedom that we are squandering away for pretty computers and ease of use (yes, I’m talking to you Apple).

If you’ve been watching my tweets, you’ll remember to not think legally…lots of really horrible things are legal even today in the U.S.  Instead, think ethically…what is really going on when corporations are not only allowed to do things like this, but that we as Christians support it by being silent and continuing to purchase their products.  This is one of the main reasons I support and use open source because overall the open source movement supports freedom (especially of speech) in ways proprietary technologies including DRM never will.  Support freedom.  Don’t support DRM or companies pushing DRM technologies in their products.

The good news is that the companies are listening when you speak.  There’s a reason that the iTunes store finally dropped DRM.  If we keep supporting merchants that don’t use DRM we’ll continue to have freedom.  These decisions are small, but powerful.  For instance, I’ve continued to use Amazon MP3 store because it’s never supported DRM in it’s distribution model.  Alternatives are out there.  If you support them, they will continue to grow and get even better.  But the decision is up to us…you and me doing what we believe is right as we continue to rethink ethics in a digital world.

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