Is DRM all or nothing? (updated)

Doc Searls has gotten pretty lathered up over a post made by Lloyd Shepherd, deputy director of digital publishing for the Guardian in the UK (a great paper with a great website). Why? Because Lloyd made the mistake of writing about digital rights management, or DRM, without saying that it is a great evil that must be sent back to Hell where it belongs.

In fact, he says that it seems obvious that we will wind up having some kind of DRM, and therefore we should start talking about what kind to have and what makes one kind better than another, an argument also made by Chris Anderson of Wired and the Long Tail. This is anathema to Doc, however, who calls Lloyd’s post “the most depressing thing I’ve read in some time.”

Do we have to have some kind of DRM? I would argue that Lloyd is probably right — the big media companies aren’t going to let their music and books and movies and cartoons and TV shows and whatever else simply float out onto the Internet scot-free, no matter how much we might like them to. So should we let Google develop a DRM scheme that works and is as non-restrictive as possible, or should we let Sony do it with their rootkits?

David Smith says we haven’t had the debate over whether we need DRM or not, but that implies there’s a debate to be had. I’m not sure there is. Debate over which kind, yes. Debate over whether to have DRM or not, I don’t think so. In this, I would agree not only with Lloyd but with Shelley of Burningbird, whose post makes a lot of sense — and has some interesting comments attached as well.

5 thoughts on “Is DRM all or nothing? (updated)

  1. Well, we’re seeing what Google is releasing, and I think we should consider having input into DRMs rather than ignoring them until they ‘go away’.

    BTW, did you mean Doc Searls instead of Dave Winer?

  2. I totally agree, Shelley. And yes, I did mean Doc instead of Dave —
    a slip of the typewriter, I’m afraid. I’m not sure who would be more offended by the comparison 🙂

  3. Good piece on, Mathew, and I like the “column in progress” thing. Neat idea. Do you do that all the time?

    I’ve said my piece on DRM — I don’t know enough about copyright to have an informed position other than a broad belief that intellectual property should be protected, and that from a consumer perspective it’s all about choice, easy, value and legal.

    On Apple repeating their own history: really interesting. Again, I think that they are doing choice, easy, value and legal so well (though not perfectly, I know) that at this point that it really doesn’t matter. But isn’t it so that, eventually, all the players here will just have to stop with the “mine’s bigger than yours” fun and play nice in the standards sandbox? It sure looks that way to me…

    – Stuart

  4. Mathew, I’m not saying that we should restrict the debate to whether or not we should have DRM. I am saying that what is happening – the rolling out of (incompatible) DRM mechanisms — is happening without appropriate public engagement. Given the importance of DRM and its potential side-effects (in her post, Shelley touches on a number of areas of possible concern), the debate must happen — and must include thoughtful, open discussion as to whether DRM is a good thing at all. Talking with, or listening to, business leaders and entrepreneurs who are building their companies on the net, I am struck by how many are questioning traditional business models and, in doing so, are also questioning the role and place of DRM. Such questioning needs to be communicated more widely within our societies.

    I note that Lloyd Shepherd updated his original post and has concluded that, thus far, no-one has come forward to answer his original questions: ‘what are the best implementations of DRM out there, which balance the needs of the provider and the consumer without getting in the way of either? Does such a thing exist?’. Lloyd has concluded: ‘It would appear that the answer to my original question is a resounding “noâ€? from this little survey’.

    I liked Tom Loosemore’s comment (number 16) on Lloyd’s posting, and I think Lee Bryant made two valuable comments there, too.

  5. I apologize if I mis-characterized your argument, David. For what
    it’s worth, I just want to say that I agree we need a frank and open
    discussion about different kinds of DRM, or how to strike a balance
    between the need for some kind of copyright protection and the need
    for an open Internet, and fair use. And I think it’s obvious that
    Lloyd wants that too. I’m not sure there’s much point in “retiring to
    the sidelines to wave a “DRM is evil” sign” as one person commented on
    Lloyd’s post. That’s all I was trying to say.

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