Digital Rights Management on the web

I strongly dislike Digital Rights Management (DRM), and often refuse to buy certain things simply on the grounds of them having DRM. So, what I do have against DRM? For the sake of clarity, I’ll assume we’re talking about videos/films (but all these arguments apply to any kind of content):

  • Any platform (= “device” or “operating system”) not supported by the producer will not have a legal way to watch the video: as DRM needs special video players (that enforce certain conditions, like not allowing you to share the film with other people), you can only watch the film if there’s a player for your platform.

  • Because of the point above, free software is left out almost by definition (eg. under Linux, DVDs have their protection cracked in order to watch them because there’s no legal player; this is not only cumbersome, but illegal in some countries even if you have bought the DVD; Netflix is not officially available on Linux, although there are workarounds).

  • It gives unnecessary control to the producers of the content (eg. Amazon can delete books you have bought from your Kindle; you maybe not be able to lend the film/book to a friend; many DVDs don’t allow you to watch the film directly without watching the trailers first).

  • It’s often inconvenient for the paying customer, plus it doesn’t even work to fight piracy (music examples / film examples).

So, can’t you just not buy any DRM-“protected” films/books if you don’t like DRM? That’s more or less what I do, but I’m worried now that the w3c is planning on introducing DRM as part of the web, which will encourage more companies to use DRM. And I said “encourage”, not “allow”, because it’s perfectly possible to do so now (eg. Netflix does it). As I’m opposed to DRM, I think it’s ok that’s it’s painful or awkward to implement: there’s no need to make something bad easier and more common.

Some pro-DRM people seem to have this misconception that people who oppose DRM want the content to be free of charge. That’s ridiculous. I want to pay for the content, I just want to watch/read that content in whatever way is comfortable for me, and in whatever devices/operating systems I happen to use. In fact, I do spend a lot of money on music (but only when it’s DRM-free).

The only pro-DRM arguments I could take seriously were brought by the BBC (hat-tip to Bruce Lawson for sending me the link). They have very good points in the sense that in many cases it’s not even their choice to offer unlimited access. The thing is, again, that:

  1. If we agree that DRM (eg. limiting the content to certain kinds of devices) is bad, why make it easier? It’s already possible, let’s not make that the default if we think it’s bad. Keeping thing that are bad-but-necessary-right-now hard, but possible, sounds like a good strategy to me…

  2. Non-supported platforms would be excluded, why make it easier to have content on the web that discriminates against certain people (eg. people who have non-mainstream devices, free software)?

Finally, the EFF has a page about owning vs. renting that talks about other reasons why I don’t like DRM.