Digital Rights Management: The Illusion of Control

Digital Rights Management (DRM) is employed by a lot of software and some hardware and media manufacturers as a means of controlling digital copying and reproduction as well as unwarranted modification and extension.

Unfortunately DRM is a lot like the lock on your door.  It really only stops honest people.  The problem is that once something is made into digital information, if you have access to that information in some way (which you must in order to use it at all) it can be broken down into components, analyzed, copied, edited, etc.  Even the best DRM mechanisms are susceptible in the same way that the best locks are susceptible: there are experts who know quite simply how these “safety” methods function and therefore can exploit or create ways to bypass them.

The scary thing about digital information, unlike the things that physical locks prevent, is that copying it is EASY.  Once you have unrestricted access to the data it’s essentially impossible to stop its dissemination into places you don’t want it to go.  This has a profound effect on the value of the information.  Simple economics states that as supply increases, demand decreases.  If you have practically unlimited supply, then it is essentially unsellable.

Now, to my point.  If creators of digital information stop shitting their pants in fear of this fact, they can embrace it, and do something intelligent, like my heroes at Wolfire games have done with the Humble Indie Bundles 1, 2, and 3.

Other creators of digital information have made similar approaches to avoiding the fear-riddled methods of DRM.  Radiohead has released two albums via their website, independently of traditional Record Company’s outlet.  Although Radiohead abandoned the pay whatever you want model after their first internet download-based release, they did offer a scaled pricing model based on the file quality and all files were provided DRM free.

Both of these examples show that by offering something that consumers want, be it a convenient bundle of games and an opportunity for charitable donation or an easy to find torrent of high quality digital content at a reasonable price, these creators can still thrive commercially while accepting the reality that digital information can and will be pirated by those who lack integrity.

The time for megaprofit, greed-fueled corporations is coming slowly to an end.  Their fear of losing a control that they never really had in the first place is evident of this transition.  Wolfire games doesn’t fear piracy, they accept it as a fact, and go on about their day happy to have made a difference in the world and still bring home bread to their family.

Are you a content creator?  Take advantage of open content and release your own by implementing open content or open source copyright licensing.  Be collaborative; share your photos, graphics, music, or anything else.

On a related note, Redhat, one of the early pioneering and successful open source based companies is on schedule to become a billion-dollar company this year.  If that’s not commercial success based on open-source and free culture then I don’t know what is.

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