DRM And Free Expression

Sun, 29 Apr 2012

While not the only reason the former Soviet Union fell apart, samizdat certainly played a large role in this.

Citizens copied printed works of dissent and handed the papers out to like-minded friends and others. Samizdat undermined the ability of the repressive communist regime. While the crackdown on independent thinking eventually proved unsuccessful, totalitarian governments around the world continue to shut down independent thought and free expression.

Free-thinking people in free countries deplore this and yet are willing to allow similiar restraints to freedom of expression in their own nations through DRM.

The recording industry and movie companies would prefer you to think of DRM as Digital "Rights" Management but DRM is better described as Digital "Restrictions" Management because it restricts your ability to access and share anything in a digital file. This covers ebooks, downloaded or streaming movies, TV shows and software. In other words, once you buy a DRM-enabled file and depending on the restrictions, you cannot share the file or use it on another device. DRM can also give the company access to whatever electronic device the file is stored in.

It is nothing more than an attempt to shut down free expression. It is being pushed heavily by the recording industry and movie companies. Ebook publishers have also signed on as strong supporters.

Sadly many people have purchased devices that implement DRM. When everyone owns devices with DRM and everyone buys files with DRM the company distributing those things gains defacto control over what is allowed to be read and shared.

Consider this disturbingly ironic example from Amazon. Some time back, Amazon accessed all the Kindle ebook readers it has sold and deleted the ebook "1984" from all of them. Talk about Orwellian!

It's not just the Kindle that is affected. The Nook and Apple's iPads and iPhones also carry DRM which allows Barnes and Noble and Apple to control what you can see and read with these devices.

Think about a traditional printed book. Once you buy it, it is yours. You can loan it to a friend. You can give it away. You can resell it at a used book store. You can swap it to someone for a different book. The same thing is true with buying a music CD v. a download from online music stores.

If you get the same thing with DRM all of that disappears. DRM is a basic matter of rights. Who owns a DRM-encrypted file? Under DRM, the company owns the file because they decide what you can do with it. Who really owns a DRM-enabled electronic device if the company can delete things without your consent and prevent you from using it however you want to?