Weblog on the Internet and public policy, journalism, virtual community, and more from David Brake, a Canadian academic, consultant and journalist
2 January 2005

Or has this been festering behind the scenes for months and only recently become public? (Or has there been argument somewhere I just haven’t been noticing?) It’s becoming clear that “Chris Anderson”:http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/bios/andersonw.html – the Editor in Chief of Wired – has views on copyright that differ somewhat from the ‘bits want to be free’ ideology that the magazine has tended to espouse.

I noticed “last month”:http://blog.org/archives/cat_ecommerce.html#001325 that Chris A (as befits an ex-Economist writer) is keen to encourage commercial companies to sueeze every last penny of value out of their intellectual property while people like “Cory Doctorow”:http://www.craphound.com/ and “Lawrence Lessig”:http://www.lessig.org/ would rather copyright protection was somewhat loosened to make it easier for people to exercise their existing rights and to encourage more theoretically-marketable but marginal content to enter the public domain.

Now Cory and Chris have “locked horns on digital rights management”:http://www.boingboing.net/2004/12/29/cory_responds_to_wir.html. Cory it seems never saw a DRM implementation he liked – Chris is a little more open to persuasion. Certainly both Cory and Larry have been able to dig up plenty of examples of how stupid DRM software rules sometimes mess up consumers’ rights and how it is always possible to circumvent DRM if you try hard enough. But my guess is that even the clumsy DRM implemented today seldom inconveniences most consumers much and most consumers don’t bother trying to get around it, unless they are trying to do something they shouldn’t like giving away copyrighted content to their friends.

If companies managed to develop sophisticated DRM that didn’t significantly impede people’s legitimate desires to share media with their friends and their other devices I wouldn’t be against it if it encouraged companies to make more of their back catalogues available more inexpensively and conveniently online. At the moment the absence of a convenient and comprehensive commercial alternative naturally drives people to the free P2P networks (particularly for more obscure fare) and this just makes the ultimate day of digital convergence further away.

The EFF and others should be encouraging responsible DRM development not just slamming it. How about a code of conduct for responsible DRM coding?

7 Comments

  1. “my guess is that even the clumsy DRM implemented today seldom inconveniences most consumers much”

    “I wouldn’t be against [sophisticated DRM] if it encouraged companies to make more of their back catalogues available more inexpensively and conveniently online”

    What if your guesses and suppositions are wrong?

    You are trusting companies to not make a buck at the expense of the consumer. But you can’t trust companies — a company is not a person.

    Comment by Reid — 4 January 2005 @ 3:48 pm

  2. I am not suggesting having to trust companies. I am suggesting that organizations like the EFF and if necessary the gov’t should devise good practice guidelines which companies would be obliged to follow.

    Comment by David Brake — 4 January 2005 @ 4:42 pm

  3. I like your idea. However, I also believe in the “evilness” of _some_ companies. If marketforces won’t correct DRM, some strong incentives are required for companies to stick to the code. Regulation could come in handy–for instance, lower the VAT on “honest” DRM.

    Comment by Branko Collin — 4 January 2005 @ 9:26 pm

  4. Ideas like this make me shudder.

    I’m blind. Depending on the system implemented to ensure rights, it’s possible that suddenly web content could start becoming inaccessible. It’s almost always the way. A new innovation hits town, disability access is not considered, so thousands and thousands of people have content (possibly important research, cultural, educational materials) snatched from their grasp. Yearss later, just as the world is considering moving to yet another system of displaying data on the web, the access technologies finally catch up after years of trying to educate web designers, system pedallers, lawyers, governments, etc.

    Who loses out? Certain groups of disabled people who are already not given much credit in, say, the job or education market. It’ll make education more difficult, independent research could be affected, general ‘in touchness’ with the world and goings on could be impaired.

    A digital underclass could easily happen if, for instance, all websites decided to do a ‘digital edition’ of their online content like The Guardian now does with all the imperfect Adobe access solutions currently out there … and inevitable lousy formating creating a usability problem even if the ‘accessibility’ is thought to have been sorted out.

    I’m talking in the abstract … but what I’m saying is that developers of new software and systems very very rarely include accessibility from the bottom up … usually, like rickety portable ramps leading into otherwise inaccessible shops, consideration for disabled people is an add on.

    So … ideas such as this that could, in theory, seriously alter how content is delivered or displayed really put the fear of god up me.

    Oh I use the JAWS screenreader to access the web … and I am a web producer at the BBC … just for context ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Comment by Damon Rose — 7 January 2005 @ 8:30 pm

  5. Damon you are unfortunately right that the needs of the disabled are frequently overlooked. I don’t think that DRM needs to be totally banned in order to protect the disabled however – merely adequately regulated. Clearly DRM that substantially interfered with the ability of disabled people to make use of the material would (in my preferred world) be banned by law.

    Comment by David Brake — 8 January 2005 @ 5:15 pm

  6. Sadly it’s hard to regulate globally in that way, David.

    If a Greek company, for instance, patented a new web publishing system with DRM, that was taken up by the world, there’d be a problem.

    OK so the bigger companies in, say, the UK where laws half exist may attempt to make their sites accessible … but what about punters out there making their own personal sites? This is often where the richestt content lies …but it would be extremely hard to police such sites.

    In theory, in Britain currently, disability law (DDA) only covers the accessibility of services online – though it has yet to be tested in court it being a new law. WE then have to define what a service is … and ‘John’s nazi holocuast pages’ may not be considered a service … if he decides to convert his site to a new badly developed web system with DRM, then bang lots of disabled people lose a staggeringly important resource. But John can’t be sued because he only put the site up due to a passion he has …

    Who’d sue him and how?

    I’m convinced that whatever the next generation of the web may be, it’ll be far more media rich, graphical, whizzy, etc. Disability consideration will not be at it’s heart, the whole world can’t be controled by legislation either.

    So … what’s the solution?

    Possibly disability terrorism ๐Ÿ™‚

    Comment by Damon — 9 January 2005 @ 12:20 am

  7. “But you can’t trust companies รขโ‚ฌโ€ a company is not a person.” – absolutely agree with Reid. I would add, a common responsibility often means no responsibility…

    Comment by Jane, web designer — 17 January 2005 @ 9:10 pm

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