What is DRM?
DRM is about restrictions, not rights
Industry supporters of DRM refer to it as "digital rights management" as if they are the ultimate authority to grant us our rights, as if they are the ones who should have complete and total control over how we use and interact with our media. What they are really doing is managing the restrictions they impose on our media and devices that we would normally have control over in the absence of DRM. We should own our media, not be at the mercy of media companies. For that reason, we refer to it as "Digital Restrictions Management".
What is Digital Restrictions Management?
Digital Restrictions Management is technology that controls what you can do with the digital media and devices you own. When a program doesn't let you share a song, read an ebook on another device, or play a single-player game without an internet connection, you are being restricted by DRM. In other words, DRM creates a damaged good. It prevents you from doing what would normally be possible if it wasn't there, and this is creating a dangerous situation for freedom, privacy and censorship.
DRM is designed to take all of the incredible possibilities enabled by digital technologies and place them under the control of a few, who can then micromanage and track everything we do with our media. This creates the potential for massive digital book burnings and large scale surveillance over people's media viewing habits. These digital book burnings may target any media (literature, music, video, anything) or group of people on a scale we have never come close to in all of human history, and it's already started to happen. In 2009, Amazon remotely deleted copies of George Orwell's dystopian novel, 1984, distributed through the Kindle store. This would have never been possible with printed books.
If we want to avoid a future in which all information is controlled by just a few companies and our devices serve as an apparatus to monitor and control our interaction with media, we must fight for the alternative.
DRM gives media and technology companies the ultimate control over every aspect of what people can do with their media: where they can use it, on what devices, using what apps, for how long, and any other conditions the retailer wants to set. Digital media has many advantages over traditional analog media, but DRM attempts to make every possible use of digital goods something that must be granted permission for. This concentrates all power over the distribution of media into the hands of a few companies. For example, DRM gives ebook sellers the power to remotely delete all copies of a book, to keep track of what books readers are interested in and, with some software, even what notes they take in their books.
Every new technology for distributing information has increased access to and further democratized media, but they are always fought against at first because they threaten the control which certain powers have over old technology. The printing press threatened scribes, the record industry threatened live music, the radio and later home taping threatened the record industry, film threatened live performances, and vhs threatened film. Digital media distributed over the internet is the final stage of media convergence with the power to ultimately democratize information. If history is any indication, it is not the media giants who wish to control every aspect of how we interact with our media, but those who champion these new technologies who will lead us into the future.
Defective by Design has been protesting against DRM since 2006, and we've have had major success in the area of music. All major record labels have given up trying to enforce DRM schemes on music, but DRM is becoming a stronger force in ebooks, videos, and gaming. If we want to end this exploitative and anticompetitive practice, we must do something. Click here to take action.
You might be aware that DVDs (or Bluray disks) are encrypted: all of the video and audio on these disks are coded using a key that the hardware attempts to keep secret. Hollywood requires that all DVD manufacturers participate in this restrictive practice, and they can use the DMCA to make any device that doesn't participate in their scheme illegal.
This type of nuisance was only the foreshadow of greater problems to come. DRM delivers even more than copyright extension lobbying can: to turn our every interaction with a published work into a transaction, abolishing fair use and the commons, and making copyright effectively last forever.
Amazon's new movie download service is called Unbox and it outlines what DRM implies. The user agreement requires that you allow Unbox DRM software to monitor your hard drive and to report activity to Amazon. These reports would thus include a list of: all the software installed; all the music and video you have; all your computer's interaction with other devices. You will surrender your freedom to such an extent that you will only be able to regain control by removing the software. But if you do remove the software you will also remove all your movies along with it. You are restricted even geographically, and you lose your movies if you ever move out of the USA. You of course have to agree that they can change these terms at any time. Microsoft's newly upgraded Windows Media Player 11 (WMP11) user agreement has a similar set of terms.
In September 2005 a Disney executive named Peter Lee told The Economist, "If consumers even know there's a DRM, what it is, and how it works, we've already failed". A year later, on October 3rd we made that prediction come true.