An interesting piece over on TechRepublic by Jack Wallen got me thinking about Linux and DRM (Digital Rights Management) - could the two ever coexist peacefully or will heavy-handedness from big corporations and fanboy prejudices work to keep the OS away from the masses?
Wallen makes a compelling point:
What strikes me as strange is that (1) Linus Torvalds himself has come out to say Linux should adopt DRM and (2) DRM is not trying to make proprietary any software or keep anyone from having the software they know and love. The only thing DRM wants to do is protect the digital content created by writers, musicians, artists, and the like. There is no evil empire at work, there is no desire to cripple an open source system. There is only a desire to protect the rights and income of the creators of the work.
Wallen boils DRM down to the basics. It's not a lock-in mechanism, it's a protection mechanism for people's work. It's like a lock on a car, toolbox or home. You only see it or feel its presence when you choose to.
Note: By 'Linux' here both Wallen and I are of course referring to Linux distros on desktop and notebook systems and not modified versions of the Linux kernel such as Android.
Windows users make use of DRM. Mac OS users make use of DRM. iPhone users make use of DRM. Android users make use of DRM. Kindle users make use of DRM. This DRM is used to give users controlled access to protected media. DRM doesn't have to be used to lock up the OS, and DRM doesn't have to affect anyone who doesn't choose to buy protected content.
As things stand right now, the only users out in the cold as far as DRM goes is Linux users.
The reality is that DRM doesn't have to be evil (it can be, but it doesn't have to be). It can be pretty benign stuff. 99.5% of my interaction with DRMed content problem free. I make use of iTunes, Audible, Kindle and a whole lot more and it rarely gives me grief. Problem is, the perception of DRM, especially among power users, is that it is evil. 100% evil through and through. Now, I'm not a big fan of DRM (of course there are times when I wish it wasn't there), but I see it as a necessary evil. There are plenty of writers, musicians, artists, and so on who don't feel comfortable releasing their works without DRM, and without an OS that supports DRM users of that platform are cut off from that content. It's either cut the amount of digital content available massively, or live with DRM.
Now, this might not bother the hardcore Linux user, but there are plenty of people out there who would love a free operating system that would allow them to stream Netflix or read a Kindle book or run iTunes.
The problem with DRM is that those that control the DRM also impose other limitations. For example, take a look at how Google is cracking down on rooted Android handsets and blocking them from Youtube's pay-per-view service. The rooting police are here, and Google is the one waving the baton. Rooting a handset doesn't by itself mean anything and doesn't by itself break the DRM concerned, but Google (possibly at the behest of a third-party) is nonetheless blocking all rooted handsets.
This is the sort of thing that gives DRM a bad name.
I wonder if even with the backing of Linus Torvalds whether a DRM package (optional, of course) would ever be tolerated by the Linux masses. From my experience of the Linux community, it'll be a really hard sell to get the hardcore Linux fans to warm to the idea of DRM even being needed on Linux, let alone being offered, optional or otherwise.
My guess is that we won't be seeing DRM on Linux any time soon.