You are here

If you are a gadget freak and always have the latest, coolest MP3 player or computer and you haven't encountered the term DRM you are missing out on some real action!
If you have already encountered this term and ever wondered 'what the heck!' read on...

What is it?

DRM is a bundle of laws and software as well as hardware that culminate to put restrictions on your rights. Your rights to use your favourite devices, copy or read files and run your choice of software on your chosen hardware.

DRM stands for Digital Rights Management, but has been infamously also expanded as Digital Restrictions Management; and before you ask, yes it affects you and yes you need to be concerned because those are your rights being managed! So it should really read as Digital (your)Rights Management or Digital Restrictions(on you) Management. That way it sounds more personal, which is what it really is.

To understand where DRM comes from you need to understand "how the world changes when information becomes one of the most important forms of wealth and power: when everything from the pattern of purchases revealed by credit card receipts to the pattern of your D.N.A. can become a byte of information, to be bought and sold in the marketplace." James Boyle explains this in his article - Sold Out.

So what do things look like in the DRM world?

Ever had one of those moments when you forgot your own password and locked yourself out?

Your devices dont trust you

A taste of the future in year 2096 is presented by Richard Stallman in his right-to-read. People are no longer able to share their computers for fear of being jailed for (attempted) piracy.
"Most of the specific laws and practices described in the article have already been proposed; many have been enacted into law in the US and elsewhere" he says. But if this is true what are the enforcers waiting for? To understand that you need to see the hardware and software being built to enforce DRM.

So what kind of hardware will DRM run on?

This YouTube video should give you an idea (flash player required):

And here is another example from the BBC website:
Image courtesy BBC UK"One of the world's largest hard disk manufacturers has blocked its customers from sharing online their media files that are stored on networked drives"

Its Impossible!

Is that what you are thinking right now? All this is crap and will never happen. They have always failed before, so they will fail this time too. Well, thats what the designers of DRM and the TCPA want you to think. That is the idea they will also give you if you ask them, that it is not going to work so you need not worry. But I assure you Trusted Computing and DRM is for real. It is based on very sound cryptography principles that will be enforced by microchips. Unlike software which can be and has been easily fooled so far this chip level protection will be far harder to circumvent, if at all. Also, if its not going to work and if its not real, why are they investing money in it? Still don't believe it, read on, I promise you this is the last one!

Windows Vista

Microsoft's new operating system now comes with every new computer you buy whether you like it or not. Companies and users have thrown away millions of dollars worth of hardware to buy hardware compatible with Microsoft's new baby.

"Windows Vista includes an array of 'features' that you don't want. They are digital rights management (DRM) features built into Vista at the behest of the entertainment industry—and you don't get to refuse them." [Bruce Schneier]

Read Microsoft's suicide note by Oliver Day.

Apple is not at all behind in the game either. The Apples iPOD and iTunes are both DRM enabled. Only, Apple chooses to call it FairPlay.

So what do you do? What choice do you have?

Reject DRM Devices

Reject DRM enabled devices and content. No matter how cute, sweet, cool they look or feel to have. Send out a strong message that you will not give up your rights easily without a fight and that they will not be able to entice you into giving them up. Because every time you buy such a device you agree to licensing terms that make you give up your rights. Hold on to to your rights and stand firm. When the consumer market for DRM dies, the technology will too.

Don't resort to DRM for licensing

If you are on the other end of the spectrum and are a content creator (i.e. musician, programmer, writer etc) don't fall for the DRM trap. Don't lock down your work. Poetry can only be made out of other poems; novels out of other novels as the critic Northrop Frye famously put it. So share your work under a more even license, like the creative commons for content and the GNU GPL for software.

Stop being a Pirate

Just in case you haven't realized every illegal copy of software, movie or album you make justifies the need for DRM. Copying and dissipating of content without regard to licensing and intellectual property must stop. If the DRM movement continues it will take away more than just illegal copying. It will take away all your copying and distribution rights as well as rights to own your devices (The premise being if you owned and controlled your devices you would be tempted to use them for piracy). So stop doing it now! Learn to read licensing guidelines before you copy stuff. Just because you can copy it does not mean you should copy it. Your favourite bands, movie makers and software companies need your support to survive. Buy their products legally and give them a chance so that they don't have to resort to DRM techniques for protecting their content.

How do I explain DRM to my kids?

Tell them the story of The Pig and The Box.

Join EFF