Saturday, October 13, 2012

Break The Chains of Digital Rights Management

We've all run into it. Whether it's trying to play a favorite song we purchased on iTunes on an 'unapproved' device or trying to read an ebook on a device that doesn't support whatever locked down format that the publisher has decided to use, we've all encountered the scourge and chains that we lovingly call 'Digital Rights Management' or "DRM".

"Digital Rights Management" is really a bit of a misnomer. It's really not about managing your rights as much as it is about restricting them. DRM is all about taking control of our digital products out of our hands and placing it in the hands of strangers who's sole interest in controlling how we use those products is squeezing every last cent out of them. It's not enough that we've bought the product, they want more.

Unfortunately, this need to never miss a paying customer and never lose a dime is wreaking havoc on users. Many users have found themselves unable to play thousands of dollars worth of purchased music once they switched from Windows or Mac (which supports iTunes) to a free system like Linux. People who are more than willing to pay for content on NetFlix are being told 'we don't want your money' simply because they're running Linux and the studios fear that users might find a way to share their content and take away a few sales.

But it's worse than that. Disabled users are being shut out of entire realms of content simply because they don't use approved devices. Ask your sight impaired friends about their experiences buying commercial ebooks online. You're likely to hear many stories similar to this one.  While DRM sounds like a 'good idea', the actual implementation is harming innocent people, costing content providers money, and hurting society as a whole.

"But Anthony", I hear you say, "how will content creators make any money if they don't use DRM? Everyone will simply go and download the book from The Pirate Bay". Ask bestselling sci-fi author and digital rights activist Cory Doctorow how he makes money? Copies of all of his books available for free download on his website. He also sells them on Amazon and Barnes and Noble and, you know what? People buy them. Users are more than willing to pay for good content. But we don't want to be made to feel like we're criminals before we've even bought a product.  Regardless of what the big DRM advocates think, most of us don't want to "pirate" their content. We want to control what we purchase.

The current climate surrounding DRM and related technologies pits consumers against content and device creators. But the tide is slowly changing. Thanks to efforts of organizations like The Free Software Foundation and the campaigns they run like Defective By Design, users are revolting against the arbitray demands to control their machines and purchases by content creators. They're refusing to purchase DRM restricted music, books, and software. They're writing letters to their Member of Parliment of Congressman and expressing their feelings about being treated like a criminal and, slowly, the culture is starting to change. Slowly.

So what can you do to help speed the change along? Stop accepting being treated like a criminal by the people you buy from. Stop giving your money for the people who will turn on you and put you in jail for the slightest misstep. You deserve better! You're the customer; you're King! Start acting like it. If a company wants to tell you how you can use what you can purchase from them make a clear and simple decision: don't do business with that company. More importantly, let the company know that you are not doing business with them and why. Write and email or make a phone call. Don't let them off the hook for abusing their customers. Don't give them your hard earned money!

Also consider educating others. You don't have to be militant about it like some in the movement are. Just reach out to friends and collegues when you seem them using or buying restricted items and let them know they have a choice. When you're in the store and see someone struggling to find the money to purchase Microsoft Office,. speak up and point them to LibreOffice or OpenOffice ;and tell them the benefits beyond costs.

All of us can do something to help bring this lunacy to an end. It's just about standing up and realizing that companies are not doing you a favor by providing products to you. You are King/Queen! Start acting like it!

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