Digital Directions: DRM: The Battle Observed
An Orwellian Media Nightmare?
The fly in the DRM ointment is that infringers can easily overcome any technical hurdle that DRM imposes, with a modicum of skill and sufficient motivation to do so. The fallibility of DRM is so generally acknowledged that the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) includes provisions that criminalize the circumvention of DRM. In July 2001, Dmitry Sklyarov was arrested for creating a product that overrides the DRM in Adobe’s e-book copy protection. His crime was the creation of technology that could be used to make pirated copies of e-books, not for actually pirating e-books. A jury later found that Sklyarov did not willfully violate U.S. law, and he was released.
The pro-DRM lobby is pushing to go beyond the DMCA to have federal requirements set for any device capable of content playback to comply with DRM standards. The anti-DRM camp holds that such a policy infringes upon free speech, innovation and fair use. A darker conspiracy is also suspected: a vision of media and technology companies—often with the same parent corporation—setting standards that support corporate interests, with the Feds providing the muscle on enforcement. This closed-door cronyism may pave the way to an Orwellian media nightmare in which unseen forces constantly monitor and control what we see, hear and say.
There is a clear need for open discussion on how these standards are set. Having said that, the rhetoric often runs toward the paranoiac. Most media companies would prefer a superior DRM solution in which no bona fide user would be adversely affected, but infringers would be stopped in their tracks. Alas, such is not the state of the art.
Even if such an ideal DRM technology were to exist, I wonder if we are all just missing the point. In the zeal to lock down content, are publishers demonstrating a lack of understanding of the dynamics and opportunities in digital, networked content?