Defective By Design, a Free Software Foundation campaign against Digital Restrictions (also known as property Rights) Management, or DRM, launched in May 2006. For nine years they’ve been saying “NO to DRM!” Today (May 6) is their declared International Day Against DRM.
DRM is terrible as part of the knowledge economy and as part of knowledge policy. It decreases freedom (its very nature is to restrict the actions available to people using encumbered media and devices, including cars, tractors, and kitty litter boxes), and increases inequality (DRM is anti-competitive, serving to increase the wealth and power gained by concentrated owners), and decreases security (DRM is complex, so introduces vulnerabilities to parties other than the vendor, and frustrating, encouraging people to look for workarounds, which can themselves be insecure or outright malware).
Say no to DRM, indeed. But increasing public awareness of the harms of DRM and saying no doesn’t begin to restructure the knowledge economy away from production dependent upon freedom infringing regimes (IP) and mechanisms intended to protect said production and regimes (such as DRM) and toward production aligned with freedom respecting regimes, nor does it do anything to increase policy imagination for freedom.
To accomplish such restructuring of production and policy imagination (and increase freedom, equality, and security), incrementally and sustainably, production which relies on freedom rather than property must be promoted.
You might want to take some of Defective By Design’s say no actions or peruse their free-as-in-no-DRM buying guide. But to nudge toward a good future, discover and help make culturally relevant free-as-in-freedom works in fields where DRM is common, including games and even movies.
One of the Defective By Design “say no” actions is a petition requesting that DRM be kept out of the HTML5 specification and web browsers. Mozilla and especially the W3C (and others with lower expectation of commitment to the open web) are making a big miscalculation in accepting DRM, but it’s easy to understand their logic: people really want their “premium video” spectacle. To stay relevant for other battles, Mozilla needs to maintain market share, and thus implement the DRM that studios demand, or users will flock to even more abusive platforms. Libraries are in a similarly abject and miscalculated position regarding DRM encumbered e-books. The slow but sure way to prevent such miscalculation is to change the equation by beginning to compete with the studios through peer production of both material and cultural relevance. Even small successes in this regard would be unexpected and help make all feel less trapped by the demands of the dominant spectacle marketers.
Slim pickings? Yes, but we have to start somewhere to escape the terrible bargain of exchanging freedom, equality, and security for big budget spectacle.
Policy also has a role, and as usual the main thrust ought complement and support free-as-in-freedom production. Private practices embodied in free licenses ought be considered as prototyping better public policy, and have much to offer in the specific case of DRM: both deregulatory (circumvention permission) and regulatory (against DRM or locked down devices) measures are explored in CC-BY-SA-4.0, GPLv3, and other licenses.