They told me that I couldn’t come back here again
Took me for some kind of fool.
Said I was doing things that never should be done
But I don’t care about their rules!
As if I cared ’bout the little minds
In the little heads of the herd-
There’s nothing you could dream
Would be more absurd.
The Apple iPad has been released, to much fanfare, and much derision. Personally I don’t have much interest in the device, but I can see the use. Generally if I want to watch television, I’m doing so on a decent-sized screen in my house. On long journeys I prefer to read books, the paper sort. Yes they’re heavier and they take up much more space, but there’s an emotional component to lugging around a lump of dead tree that just isn’t present in an e-reader.
No sooner had the iPad been announced, though, than the Free Software Foundation weighed in with its “Defective by Design” compaign, compaining that the iPad was DRM-encumbered, wouldn’t allow sharing of media and much more of the kind of FUD that I used to expect from Microsoft ten years ago.
Now, before I go any further: I have nothing against the Free Software Foundation. They have done a great many things I find eminently agreeable. This, however isn’t one of them. The aim is lofty and agreeable, I’ll grant, allow any kind of content to be played on anyone’s device. However…
Society just doesn’t work that way. In an ideal world we would all pay for the digital media we consume, be it music, video, software programs, or anything else. Unfortunately this isn’t an ideal world. The sheer number of people who think they have a right to content for the price of pressing the disc / the bandwidth consumed by downloading it is enormous, and growing. Who’d pay for something they can get (not entirely legally) for free? I know of a large number of people, even those who by rights should be able to pay the asking price easily, who will chip their games consoles to play pirated games, download films off the less legitimate parts of the internet and not think twice about it.
The problem is the relative level of social acceptability of piracy. It’s acceptable to illegally download films, to chip consoles to play copied games, and so on. This is the problem. The DRM is just a symptom of this. It’s unfortunate, but the producers of this content need to provide some sort of mechanism to encourage people to pay for it. If it’s easier (and cheaper) to obtain it without payment to the original distributor, a large proportion of people will do so.
Unfortunately while I have every sympathy for the FSF and their campaign to make information exchange unencumbered, I’m also a realist. At present, in my experience, allowing anyone to exchange content freely will result in the return on the investment in said content to be lowered immensely, probably to the point of content costing more to produce than is returned.
My employer spends a lot of money fighting people who counterfeit its products. These are products that are marketed direct to businesses. Anything that will save a dollar here or there is often jumped upon by the people who buy these counterfeits, even when they know that someone else is not getting paid for the work thas has been put in to generate the product in the first place.
So, FSF and its supporters. I’m sorry, but I agree with DRM, at least until it’s socially unacceptable to take someone else’s work without them or their legitimate distriutor getting anything for it. Once you can assure me that the producer of a given work will get the payment they so richly deserve, I’ll be happy to join the ranks of anti-DRM campaigners. Until then, I’m afraid I have to keep living in a world where we need safeguards to make sure that the content is paid for.
As an aside, I recently bought a film on DVD. Rather than the usual “Piracy is against the law” line, there was a simple, short sequence that simply thanked me for supporting the producers of the film by paying for it. I was very pleasantly surprised. I approve of that message.
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