Is open DRM possible, or even desirable?

Summary:Is Sun's "open" DRM a desirable alternative to proprietary DRM systems, or yet another nail in the casket of fair use?

Sun has announced the "Open Media Commons," a standard for DRM that's supposed to be neutral and "open."

Of course, there are a few minor hurdles. First of all, while customers (note I'm not using "consumers") might like the idea of a unified DRM standard (though they'd certainly prefer no DRM at all...) it doesn't fit with the well-mannered marketplace that many companies are seeking.

If we must have DRM, however, I'd prefer it under an open and royalty-free regime such as Sun is proposing -- but I'm still not convinced that we have to have it.I hope that when people find out that they have to buy new monitors just to watch DRM'ed content at its full resolution on Windows Vista, they'll reject DRM'ed content the same way they rejected Divx DVDs.The entertainment industry, along with quite a few software companies, are trying to convince the public that DRM is inevitable.

It isn't, if the public rejects it. The entertainment industry is perfectly capable of turning a profit without having absolute control over their content, and if people refuse to pony up for DRM-hobbled content long enough, the entertainment industry will have to back off.

I'm not objecting to DRM because I want to snag movies off of P2P networks (as some posters have suggested) but because I can see the writing on the wall: Once DRM becomes entrenched, we're looking at a pay-per-play future. I don't really relish the idea of having to ante up every time I want to watch Young Frankenstein, rather than just being able to purchase it outright -- and, with near-absolute control over content -- what's to stop a company from simply removing a work from circulation altogether?

Right now, we have physical copies of movies and other works, so if a company goes out of business, or puts a title out of print, there are still copies to be had legitimately. In an all-digital, all-DRM future, if a company takes a work out of circulation, it would be next-to-impossible to get it legitimately. For example, if I'd like to get a copy of Star Wars as I saw in theaters, and not George Lucas' butchered version that was released on DVD, I could check around on eBay for a VHS or LaserDisc copy of the theatrical release. In the all-digital, all-DRM future, that may not be possible.

I'm also not sure that an open DRM scheme is technically feasible. There's not a lot up on Open Media Commons website just yet, so it's hard to say how this is going to work on the technical level -- but if it's completely open under Sun's favorite license, the Common Development and Distribution License (CDDL), what's to stop someone from simply re-writing the software and changing it to ignore DRM restrictions? 

Sun's "Dream" is obviously the lesser of two evils, but I'm wondering if it's a good idea to support it. If DRM is inevitable, I'd prefer to be able to watch new formats on my Linux box rather than having to use Windows to do so. But, I'm wondering if backing Sun's scheme will have the effect of making DRM inevitable after all.

Topics: Open Source

About

Joe 'Zonker' Brockmeier is the community manager for openSUSE, a community Linux distro sponsored by Novell. Prior to joining Novell, Brockmeier worked as a technology journalist primarily covering the Linux and FOSS beat, and wrote for a number of publications, such as Linux Magazine, Linux.com, Sys Admin, UnixReview.com, IBM developer... Full Bio

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