Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Why you should have the right to be Microsoft's (or anyone's) bitch

There's a big debate in the free software community about this thing called DRM. DRM is actually a misnomer that stands for Digital Rights Management and it's nothing that gives or manages your rights but rather something that restricts them. If you've ever tried to share a song you bought on iTunes or a book you bought on your Kindle with a friend, you've experienced DRM first hand when you were told you weren't allowed to do it.

The Free Software community has always held that things should be, well, free. You should be able to share your music, software and books with your friends because that's just what friends do. You can do it in the real world, so why not allow it in the digital world as well? For the most part, their argument makes sense if you don't consider the unique 'edge' cases where sharing in the real world is significantly different than doing so in the digital.

For the most part, but with a few modifications, I tend to agree with this belief. If I purchase a digital book, why can't I share that book with friends? I should be able to lend you a book for as long as I want and the publisher or Amazon should have absolutely nothing to say about it. The same is true for music and other like content too. But recently, there's a movement within the community to legislate against the use of digital restrictions on content and that's where I think it goes a bit too far.

Those who seek to legally ban the use of DRM are essentially saying 'I support your freedom as long as it lines up the way I think it should'. But that isn't true freedom. It's an illusion of freedom that allows its proponants to stick their chest out and pretend that they're 'fighting for the rights of the people' when, in fact, they're simply being self serving.

Supporting true freedom on the other hand, means support the right of someone to deliberately choose enslavement. If, knowing their are other options out there for the same or similar content, the user chooses to use the restricted option, then that is their choice and restricting or eliminating that choice because you don't agree with it is simply enslaving them in another way. Supporting freedom means supporting things you don't agree with because you realize people have a right to choose their own path.

If the free software movement truly supports freedom, the correct option would be to abandon the silly push for legislation and instead focus on user education and creating usable alternative options that would encourage users to choose the free option over enslavement. Let it be the users choice and, even if they choose to be enslaved for a time, with the right education coupled with their own bad experiences using DRM, they'll come around to our side eventually.

I respect Richard Stallman but I think he is totally wrong in making this a moral or legal issue. People who choose to produce things and restrict their use are not immoral nor or people who choose to use products that restrict their freedoms. What is immoral, however, is trying to mandate that other options be outlawed or not available at all.

Wake up, Richard! It's time for us to move back into the marketplace of reality.

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