Open publishing – The opposite of open is DRM

It’s difficult to have a discussion about open publishing without also considering digital rights management (DRM), the software that attempts to control what people do with digitally distributed content. For many publishers, the thought of publishing books under a Creative Commons licence is anathema, but yet they don’t want to pass up on the opportunity to distribute their material digitally online. Instead of experimenting with open publishing, they try to find a middle way and frequently they think that middle way is to use DRM to lock up their ebooks and audiobooks.

As you can tell from my tone, I’m none too keen on DRM. It’s something I’ve done a lot of work on with the Open Rights Group, where I was until recently Executive Director. Rather than rehash all the arguments here as to why I believe DRM is bad, I’m going to give you a nice list of links:

The problem with DRM is that it’s a fundamentally flawed technology which erodes our rights and favours contract law over copyright law. It prevents users exercising their fair dealing rights (called fair use in the US), restricts access to those with disabilities, and does nothing to benefit the consumer.

I have been surprised by the relish with which some publishers approach DRM, but in looking for a middle way they’ve ended up down a cul-de-sac.

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6 thoughts on “Open publishing – The opposite of open is DRM

  1. I don’t think I agree that is so black and white — “the opposite of open is DRM.” Well, I hope not, anyway.

    I definitely support the right of musicans to get paid — I want them to. (It would be silly for me to drive someone out of business, if I like their “service.”)

    I don’t find iTunes DRM too restrictive — but I’ve read articles from some musicans who feel that it may restrict them in the use of sampling and loops. In today’s “new” creativity — a time of mashups and mixes, this would definitely seem to stifle things.

    One such musican:

    I just wish a standard form of DRM could be applied across all devices and all companies. That way, I could use all my music on any device.

  2. Good set of links there, Suw. I’d add my own ‘5 short arguments against DRM’:
    David Weinbergers excellent essay on why computers shouldn’t do jurispudence, ‘Copy Protection is a Crime’:

    For more recent takes on the issue, see Steve Jobs’ ‘Thoughts on Music’:
    and Daniel Eran’s ‘How FairPlay Works: Apple’s iTunes DRM Dilemma’:

  3. I’m curious to hear your thoughts on Steve Jobs recent statement on DRM. What impact (if any) do you think it will have on the industry?

  4. Renee, I think Jobs’ recent statement on DRM will not prove to have that much impact on the industry. There’s a tension between the technology industry and the big players in the music industry, with the music industry seeing tech (including media player manufacturers, ISPs, blank media and memory mfrs, Apple, etc etc) as making money out of music “without paying for it”. This attitude was reflected in the music industry’s attempt to lobby for a ‘value recognition right’, a levy they proposed be introduced on any media which can hold or transmit music, e.g. blank CDs, memory sticks, mp3 players, and ISPs. An absurd proposal if ever I saw one, and example of their hostility.

    The more savvy music labels, like Beggars Banquet for example, are less technophobic, but in that case Jobs is preaching to the converted so they are already anti-DRM.

    We’ll have to wait and see how this plays out, but I’m not holding my breath.

  5. Will, taking an anti-DRM stance does not equate to saying that musicians – or other creative folk – shouldn’t get paid. Of course they should. I love music, and literature and all that stuff that people do for the love of it, and I totally support their right to earn money from their work. This is why I am not anti-copyright, but pro-copyright reform.

    But you have to ask if DRM really is in the best interests of musicians and writers. If DRM is stopping people from hearing your music or reading your book, is that good for building up a fanbase?

    Better than a standard DRM is no DRM – then you have full interoperability.

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