Gentleman & Cynic
Join Date: Jan 2008
Location: 5 generation native Texan
Device: BeBook/Openinkpot, CYbook 3rd gen awaiting RTF software upgrade
I am writing to give one citizen's view of DRM. To provide full disclosure, I have formally filed and obtained two (2) US copyrights so far in my life, and have recent provided a modest piece of fiction directly to the public domain, pro bono publico. In addition, I have scanned and proofed 5 written works in the US public domain, three for Project Gutenberg US, and two for Project Gutenberg Austrialia.
DRM is a subject that bring forth great passions among some people, and eventually great annoyance to the public at large. It is bound inextricably with copyright abuse, both by direct violation of copyright among individuals and the indirect abuse of copyright extensions by corporate entites who are unwilling to accept that copyright is not perpetual property, which is explicitly written into the US Constitution.
DRM encompasses a variety of methods, whose purpose is to prevent unauthorized copying of a digital file. The questions at hand are 1. Is it effective? 2. Does it infringe upon the purchaser's right of property, while protecting the creator's limited monopoly rights? 3. Are the competing rights properly balanced? And finally, what about piracy?
1. Is it effective? The answer is, at best, only somewhat. To a person with little technological interest, DRM will probably be effective. Unfortunately for the users of DRM, this is not the majority of users of their product, or if it is today, the demographic trend will reduce them to a minority in the future. Virtually every DRM in existence has been broken, and effective methods can be obtains somewhere in the world for users to break the individual items protected by DRM at their leisure. Therefore, I cannot say that DRM has been a roaring success. It does place obstacles to purchasers, who have complained not just vocally, but with their dollars, whenever possible. The recent trend to drop DRM in downloaded music is a relevant example. Given a choice, the public chose unDRMed music over DRMed music. The sellers have belated chosen current sales over future property protection via DRM.
2. Does it infringe upon the purchaser's right of property, while protecting the creator's limited monopoly rights? Since I deem it to be not very effective (see previous), it provided more of a psychological fig leaf for intellectual property rights rather that an iron-clad protection of the same. Are there real costs for the purchasers? Yes, there are. As long as I.P. had been tied to a physical object, say a book, the purchaser could do what they wanted with the acquired piece of property. They could loan it, sell it, or pitch it in a fire if they so chose to. With DRM'ed I.P., you can't loan it out or sell it or give it away legally. Those are real use losses to the purchaser. Often the price is not lowered to compensate for these losses.
3. Are the competeing rights properly balanced? This probably goes beyond the scope of DRM, but DRM is being used as a bulwark against balancing public interest in limits of copyright length versus monopoly interests. Notwithstanding the 2003 Supreme Court Ashcroft decision, the purpose of copyright was to encourage creation of new works for the public good. This was done by providing an economic incentive, i.e. a limited monopoly. One unassailable fact exists, a dead person no longer creates. All the incentives in the world will not cause more creation from a dead person. They only fatten the intermediaries and heirs, who create nothing new. The effort of various I.P. intermediaries to continually extend copyright is to the detriment of the public good, even though it is to the advantage of the I.P. intermediaries, who wish to treat copyright as a perpetual monopoly, even though it is explicitly constitutionally not perpetual. Until this scenario changes, I.P. will retain less and less respect to the public.
I will now deal wth intellectual piracy. The question is not whether DRM will stop piracy. The answer is that it obviously hasn't. Nor are Draconian laws something that will stop piracy. They obviously haven't. Piracy is going to be a ongoing background situation, as long as there is a open society with open communication. It, unfortunately, is one of the prices we pay for a free society. At the same time, what can reduce (not eliminate) piracy?
The answer is something that strike to the heart of copyright. Copyright is a limited monopoly. And all monopolies attempt to set the highest effective price for their goods (i.e., the price that will yield the highest total profit (price vs. sales)). The prices are set by competition between monopolies. Piracy sets a cap upon the maximun price that all these monopolies can charge, to the price that the average consumer will pay for convenience. If the price is cheap enough, and it is easy to find the product, the vast majority of people will pay to buy I.P. versus pirating the same I.P.
For example, I can go to grocery store and buy a quart of milk, for a price. There may be a convenience store right next to the store, selling the same quart of milk for 50 cents more. Why would I pay 50 cents more? Because the walk from the parking lot to the grocery store is longer, it takes more time to get the quart of milk from the refrigerated section, longer to check out, and then longer to walk back to the car. I'm paying for convenience at the convenience store, and I'll pay an extra 50 cents for it. I won't pay $5.00, nor $50.00. Nor will I do without milk because somebody who controls milk has decided I can't have it because somebody else might steal some of it.
And so it is with I.P. You can't charge monopoly prices against a free, albeit illegal, competitor. You can charge a convenience fee, if you really make it convenient. But currently, owners (and particularly intermediaries) of I.P. refuse to cut their price to market reality, and try to use Draconian laws and DRM to hide behind the market reality. It is difficult to propose that you can make more money sell a piece of I.P at $1 without DRM, than you can at $10 with DRM. But if you sold, say 1 DRM'ed I.P. at $10 to 100 piracies versus 20 non DRM'ed sales at $1 to 81 piracies, you get $10 for DRM I.P. versus $20 non-DRM I.P.
This is a choice for the I.P. owners. I am not optimistic that they will choose wisely.
In conclusion, I consider DRM an ineffective tool for supporting industries whose total economic reality is based upon monopoly pricing. Technology has shattered the monopoly, and it cannot be rebuilt, no matter how much effort is used. Things like DRM only annoy the customer, which erodes the goodwill that all successful businesses depend on.
<Ralph Sir Edward>
Citizen and Taxpayer