DRM's struggle with language

DRM excites strong opposition from activists. There is much to complain about, but the target should not be the technology
Written by Leader , Contributor
It's rare for a technology to so annoy people that days are set aside to protest its existence. Yet that has happened with digital rights management and the Anti-DRM day that's been called for the 3 October.

But DRM isn't of itself the issue. Companies such as Sky rely on it to control access to their services: Sky viewers are not on the whole unhappy with that. It's the way in which it is used far too often to embed outdated business practices and restrict the rights of the users themselves, often while damaging the market to the detriment of the proponents themselves.

That's not helped by the way so many of the organisations who concern themselves with DRM, software licensing and control of IP behave in a thoroughly unpleasant fashion. Companies frequently complain to us about the strong-arm tactics of the BSA, which seemingly operates on the principle that all organisations are hotbeds of crime and isn't shy about telling them so.

Supporters of DRM are also quick to abuse language, labelling those who make unlicensed copies as pirates and thieves. Neither term is accurate. Under English law, theft is taking something without permission but with the intent to permanently deprive. While making a copy of data without permission certainly infringes on the rights of the creator, it is not theft.

Theft more accurately describes what happens if a company changes the conditions relating to a DRM'd product so existing users can no longer access the content they paid for. That fulfils the requirement for permanent deprivation.

There are two parties with inherent rights in this business — the creator and the consumer. We are entitled to ask what business third parties have in laying down the law and setting new and extensive restrictions that benefit neither creator nor consumer. When those third parties also redefine the English language to their own ends — a technique well known to journalists, despots and George Orwell — suspicions strengthen about motive and purpose.

It is this reactionary, abrasive, underhanded approach which has succeeded in making DRM seem the preferred tool of those who would not fight fair. As we have always said, the rights of the consumer need to be balanced against those of the creator for an equitable and progressive market to exist. New technologies make the need for that balance a pressing one. Those who promote DRM pretend that the only answer is on their terms, while offering nothing in return. It is they, not DRM itself, who need opposing.

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