Walt Mossberg on DRM. Amen brother!
For some activists, the very idea of Digital Rights Management is anathema. They believe that once a consumer legally buys a song or a video clip, the companies that sold them have no right to limit how the consumer uses them, any more than a car company should be able to limit what you can do with a car you’ve bought.
But DRM is seen as a lifesaver by the music, television and movie industries. The companies believe they need DRM technology to block the possibility that a song or video can be copied in large quantities and distributed over the Internet, thus robbing them of legitimate sales.
In my view, both sides have a point, but the real issue isn’t DRM itself — it’s the manner in which DRM is used by copyright holders. Companies have a right to protect their property, and DRM is one means to do so. But treating all consumers as potential criminals by using DRM to overly limit their activities is just plain wrong.
Let’s be clear: The theft of intellectual property on the Internet is a real problem. Millions of copies of songs, TV shows and movies are being distributed over the Internet by people who have no legal right to do so, robbing media companies and artists of rightful compensation for their work.
Even if you think the record labels and movie studios are stupid and greedy, as many do, that doesn’t entitle you to steal their products. If your local supermarket were run by people you didn’t like, and charged more than you thought was fair, you wouldn’t be entitled to shoplift Cheerios from its shelves.
On the other hand, I believe that consumers should have broad leeway to use legally purchased music and video for personal, noncommercial purposes in any way they want — as long as they don’t engage in mass distribution. They should be able to copy it to as many personal digital devices as they own, convert it to any format those devices require, and play it in whatever locations, at whatever times, they choose.
The beauty of digital media is the flexibility, and that flexibility shouldn’t be destroyed for honest consumers just because the companies that sell them have a theft problem caused by a minority of people.
Instead of using DRM to stop some individual from copying a song to give to her brother, the industry should be focusing on ways to use DRM to stop the serious pirates — people who upload massive quantities of music and videos to so-called file-sharing sites, or factories in China that churn out millions of pirate CDs and DVDs.
I believe Congress should rewrite the copyright laws to carve out a broad exemption for personal, noncommercial use by consumers, including sharing small numbers of copies among families.
Until then, I suggest that consumers avoid stealing music and videos, but also boycott products like copy-protected CDs that overly limit usage and treat everyone like a criminal. That would send the industry a message to use DRM more judiciously. [WSJ.com]
Perhaps a blog maintaining a list of all the DRM enabled content would be good… that way consumers could more easily steer clear from frustration and of course help stick it to the man. 😉