Defective by Design

Friday DRM News

Submitted by sarahmac on Fri, 2009-06-26 12:58

Hello, my name is Sarah and I am working at the FSF this summer as part of a newly launched internship program. I will be posting new DRM news each Friday. If you'd like to know more about me read my letter of introduction. If you see stories we should mention here, please let me know.

Many companies are still putting DRM on their products, even though it has repeatedly been shown that it does not prevent filesharing. An empirical study done by Patricia Akester, a professor of law at Cambridge, found that DRM does more harm than good on an individual basis and in one instance even led the consumer who otherwise would not have to obtain an illegally shared copy. This user, who is sight-impaired, downloaded an ebook from Amazon and was surprised to learn that it did not enable the text-to-speech option. Upon contacting Amazon, which does not refund ebooks, she was referred to the publisher who in turn referred her back to Amazon. Not receiving any help from Amazon or the publisher, she then decided to download an illegal copy that provided the text-to-speech function. As Nate Anderson writes, “The study confirms what anyone who has ever wanted to rip a DVD to their computer or iPod could have told you: DRM, coupled with anticircumvention laws, makes pirates of us all.”

This is reminiscent of an investigation completed by Random House publishing, which found that not one of their DRM-free audiobooks sold on eMusic.com could be found being illegally shared. DRM is unethical and coercive to begin with -- if it doesn't even prevent illegal sharing, why are companies like Telecom, and Amazon still releasing products with it? Telecom recently launched the biggest mobile music store in New Zealand, complete with DRM. The DRM on the downloaded songs does not allow for the songs to be used on any other devices except those that work with Telecom's XT networks. On Amazon's Web site, it boasts to allow users to “... wirelessly re-download books for free anytime.” Unfortunately, this claim is not true. There is a limit that is placed on the amount of times a user can re-download a Kindle book, making this another example of it being a Swindle. One user unpleasantly found this out after he switched from his iPod Touch to an iPhone, but was not able to upload all of his books back on his Kindle reader application. After contacting Amazon, he was informed that he had re-downloaded his books too many times. He was told by an Amazon representative that Amazon does not even know how many times a user is permitted to re-download a Kindle book, despite the claim on their Web site.

Companies must not restrict freedom as a marketing strategy. As David Lee, a gaming industry examiner writes, “...it’s a case of demand not matching up with prescribed delivery methods." Hopefully companies will retire DRM and use demonstrated ways to market their products that do not infringe upon their customers rights. There is still a need for a system that encourages creative distribution through an incentive system, but that system should not work by infringing on users' rights. DRM's influence over users is decidedly negative, and on top of that it just doesn't work.

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