DRM Is Still Here (And It Still Sucks)

DRM Is Still Here (And It Still Sucks)
Image: Anthony Caruana

There are still countless stories about how DRM — digital rights management — continues to frustrate users who should be able to access, enjoy, and repurpose the media and content they’ve already paid for. DRM consists of access control technologies or restrictive licensing agreements that attempt to restrict the use, modification, and distribution of legally-acquired works.

Defective By Design is the the long-running grassroots campaign working “to eliminate DRM as a threat to innovation in media, the privacy of readers, and freedom for computer users.” Each year on September 19, the organisation celebrates Day Against DRM, which raises awareness of the ongoing danger that DRM poses.

At Creative Commons, we’ve always attempted to minimise the negative effects of DRM. All the Creative Commons licenses forbid users of CC-licensed works from adding any DRM or other technological measures that would restrict others from using the work in the ways permitted by the license terms.

Fighting back against DRM schemes is incredibly important for communities like the open education movement. These groups believe at their core that publicly funded educational content should be made broadly available under open licenses that permit the adaptation and sharing of the materials.

Of particular importance is the ability for these communities of educators and learners to “retain” such content, which grants the right “to make, own, and control copies of the content (e.g., download, duplicate, store, and manage).”

DRM poses a dire risk to this and other important principles of the Open Education movement, especially as more content moves to streaming, which is oftentimes laden with additional usage restrictions.

A major negative feature of DRM is that it’s “blind” — the technologies don’t (and can’t) tell the difference between a use or circumvention of a access feature should be permitted, such as when a user wants to be able to get around an access control in order to exercise her rights to make a fair use of the underlying media.

DRM continues to trump user rights, and in the process can limit educational activities, freedom of expression, and innovation. While some restrictive DRM clauses are being added to trade agreement negotiation texts, some measures are being introduced to ensure that the intellectual property covered under the agreements must be subject to reasonable limitations and exceptionsrelated to the circumvention of technological protection measures and other sorts of DRM.

DRM is an ongoing threat to users’ abilities to use and manipulate the technologies and products they legally own. As many have said before, we need to end DRM.

Digital freedom depends on the right to tinker, the right to access information and knowledge, and the right to re-use our shared cultural commons.

This post originally appeared on Medium.


  • I’d love to see a comparison of the pluses and minuses of DRM across a variety of media. Something that’s been in my mind lately are ebooks, and they make a good example. Will the rise of Kindle it’s no longer possible to loan a friend a book (at least not as easily as with a real book). I know for a fact that friends have borrowed books from me and gotten hooked on an author, going out and buying their other titles. And I’ve done the same. I’d love to know whether the lost sales because of inability to borrow books makes up for the increased sales because ebooks are generally cheaper than physical ones.

    And I’m sure there are similar scenarios playing out in other forms or media – games, movies, music and so on.

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