On January 20, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) announced the Apollo 1201 project, an effort to eradicate digital rights management (DRM) schemes from the world of Internet commerce. Led by well-known activist Cory Doctorow, the project aims to “accelerate the movement to repeal laws protecting DRM” and “kick-start a vibrant market in viable, legal alternatives to digital locks.” According to EFF, DRM technologies “threaten users’ security and privacy, distort markets, undermine innovation,” and don’t effectively protect so-called “intellectual property.”
EFF’s aim is true. DRM plays a huge role in extending the life of intellectual property monopolies and their evil effects on creation and innovation. Indeed, as EFF notes, DRM has become so intertwined with our society that a world with no DRM technologies seems hard to fathom. The debate becomes even more relevant given the widespread adoption of 3D printing, which is capable of making many “IP”-protected goods, and given moves by corporations to extend post-purchase control over those who buy their products.
Keurig, for example, recently tried to market a DRM-protected coffee machine that only recognizes its own “official” pods. Consumers weren’t too happy to find out they would have to hack their own spresso machines to brew coffee, since the so-called “2.0” pods weren’t available in sufficient quantities to satisfy demand.
From Apple’s cat-and-mouse race with jailbreaking phone buyers, to Amazon’s move into “exclusive” programming for its streaming service, to Netflix’s region-blocking (enthusiastically supported by the Motion Picture Association of America, a powerful US IP lobby), to rampant user control schemes by console video game makers, DRM has a long record of enabling predatory behavior by politically privileged players in captive “markets.” The enforcement of “intellectual property” claims has become so extensive and intrusive that “rights holders” feel increasingly free to interfere in production of content formerly considered fair use.
While corporations try to set up force fields around the content they control, users find ways to consume it without monitoring, breaking locks and sidestepping restrictions. While corporations treat their customers as potential criminals and try to control them at every turn, “pirates” supply ease and comfort.
The DRM world and the larger universe of state-granted and state-enforced “intellectual property” monopolies are black holes of inefficiency and bad customer service. It’s no accident that large corporations and their political cronies love DRM. They fear a genuinely free economy — one with no “intellectual property” and no “digital rights.”