DRM crystallises the relationship companies would wish to have with their customers. In the case of Sony, that's a relationship that would probably break anti-slavery laws were it to be enacted on a personal level. Microsoft says that it's deliberately pricing its DRM to exclude small developers, which underlines both the company's attitude to its customers and its intentions for the technology as a lock-in guarantee for big firms. Respect for consumers is nowhere to be seen: we Don't Really Matter.
Fortunately, the UK has a tradition of hearing all sides of the argument. The All Party Parliamentary Internet Group has been listening to those to whom DRM causes actual harm — people such as the British Library, which has a legal obligation to keep records of all publications in the UK, and the Royal National Institute for the Blind. For fully able people, DRM is a major nuisance: for those who depend on machines to bypass a broken sense, it is a new darkness.
Do the pro-DRM arguments make sense? In the US, the record industry is fighting hard to make DRM an integral part of digital radio, and has already forced the withdrawal of devices that can record from the satellite services already available. This hasn't been in response to actual harm shown, more in expectation of a digital dystopia. Yet in the UK we have huge numbers of digital radio stations broadcasting to millions of radios, many that can record directly to memory cards, without so much as a sniff of DRM. Has this really caused more harm than a rootkit?
If a company wants to use DRM to control its product, it must of course be free to do so – but that mustn't be a licence to control its customers. DRM restricts the rights of consumers; it must itself be restricted. Copyright law already has the concept of reasonable time, so DRM that works for a limited period – say five years maximum – and then leaves the content in clear would both guard the period of maximum revenue for a product and ensure society's access to its own creations. Companies that are tempted to abuse DRM may be brought back to the path of righteousness by a rule that says unreasonable behaviour will result in the annulment of copyright protection.
APIG has the chance to act in the best traditions of Parliament and create a proper balance of power and responsibilities between all parties. We too have our digital rights; we are not just here to be managed.