April 14, 2011 1 Comment
My FaceBook friends will have noticed that my current profile picture is of an upraised fist, with the slogan “Readers against DRM”. DRM = Digital Rights Management. DRM is concerned with security and privacy: it is against privacy, and seeks to protect intellectual property owners to ensure that they are appropriately rewarded for their efforts in sharing their information – as well as, supposedly, to protect digital files from viruses. Copyright is protected by using computer programs: even though you may have bought a digital file, your use of this file (i.e. the contents of the document, or the recorded information) is circumscribed by the ‘rights management’ that has been programmed into it. This avoids copying, duplicating or forwarding information that the owner or distributor feels must be controlled to a greater or lesser extent. In other words, as a purchaser of a digital file, you may have less use of this record than you may have had of a physical version. This extends even to being able to read the document only on a particular e-reader. DRM can control altering, viewing as well as copying or duplicating: in fact, anything that you might wish to do with a digital file above reading it once – or perhaps twice.
DRM therefore controls access. It is, in a manner of speaking, the opposite of Open Access and in fact often goes beyond what current copyright legislation provides for. In the effort to protect copyright and intellectual property, access to information becomes even more circumscribed and limited. Games, music, ebooks or any other digital file may be subject to, and controlled by, DRM. It is illegal to try and avoid or circumvent DRM, at least in the US: the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) was passed in 1998, and this makes illegal the development or use of any technology which can somehow circumvent DRM restrictions.
This has become a moral issue, as DRM is understood to restrict freedom of speech. Organisations such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation (which has been around since the early 1990s) and Freeculture.org understand that DRM is a restriction of civil liberties, as well as going against the principles of Free Trade. DRM has become the digital management of rights, rather than the management of digital rights – and there is a profound difference.
So: privacy, security and protection of financial interests: these are the main motivators or raisons d’etre of DRM. As we can see, however, these matters soon become political, in that what is privacy and security to some, may mean something inhibiting and constrictive of one’s civic or human rights. And this is where the problem comes in as far as libraries are concerned. Libraries seek, as a fundamental principle, to allow access as much as possible to the ideas of others, no matter where or when they were created, so that present generations can consider them. If DRM means, as Harper Collins recently suggested, that once a library has purchased an ebook, it may only be ‘circulated’ or lent out 26 times, before access is entirely blocked. This was done through a change in their agreement with OverDrive, a major ebook distributor.
It’s really like the old idea: if you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail.
- Librarians against DRM (teleread.com)
- Download Site Says DRM Causes Piracy (techland.time.com)
- Why DRM is like airport security (teleread.com)
- Librarians Against DRM logo (boingboing.net)
- Authors for DRM Free (joleenenaylor.wordpress.com)
- What, Exactly, Is DRM? [Explainer] (kotaku.com)
- VIDEO: Doctorow: DRM is no friend of business (bbc.co.uk)
- Why O’Reilly Media doesn’t use DRM (forbes.com)
- Open question: How is your publishing organization addressing DRM? (radar.oreilly.com)