So, lately and in recent years there have been growing sentiment with in the music, movie and TV industries to cut down on piracy, rightfully so. One of the big solutions that they have been attempting to use is what is called DRM, digital rights management. This "feature" is used to protect media, such as mp3's from being copied and dispersed throughout the world freely. On the surface this notion of protection seems all fair and good, the artists and the companies that promote them need to be protected from people who steal, just as they are in a record stores by security alarms. Why I bring this topic up is not that I want to lose all protection for artists and their producers but because the "protection" does not stop and just eliminating sharing.
A good example is iTunes. This is a great store, a huge selection of music in all genres and if you don't want to buy the whole album, just buy a song. This is a record store that many have been wanting for a long time. No more buying the whole album for that one song you love. Well done Apple. Something that you may not know is that each song you buy from iTunes contains DRM, this DRM not only protects the artist as stated above but also does the following: first, it locks you in. It locks you into the iTunes music player and into Apple branded music devices such as an iPod. "What's so bad about that?", you might say. There's nothing wrong with that if you only want to use their software and devices. But what happened to the days when you have a dozen choices on what CD player to buy? This locking also locks out competition, that in turn locks out innovation that leads to better products. In the end you have music you can play in only a couple of ways, in an iPod or in iTunes. Think of it like buying a car that you can only drive on one road. If that road is ever neglected or found to be obsolete, you have a car that can't go anywhere.
Second, the music also has another lock, a lock on the location you can play it. If you attempt to play music on another computer or etc, you will be asked to authorize the computer you are playing it on, with a limit of five computers that can be authorized at once (you can later de-authorize computers). So, get back into the car I spoke of, put in the CD you just bought. Wait a second, it's not playing and won't let you authorize it because you played it on your stereo at home, your computer and etc, hopefully you see my point.
iTunes and the like have made great progress in marketing and sales of music but in some ways have taken a step back, back to the days of illegal mix tapes and so on. But I digress, the issue here is not a specific company or industry it is interoperability and fair use of the products we buy. These two topics have close ties in this day of technological innovation. Interoperability is the means by which you can use a standardized product on different devices, a CD is an excellent example. Burn it, play it and use it where ever and whatever. It works on PC, Mac your DVD player and portable CD players, all of which are manufactured by different companies. My iTunes example above is exactly what interoperability is all about.
Fair use is a notion that if you buy something there are uses for it that are intended and are "fair" to the producer. For example, when you buy a car you expect to be able to open the hood and change the oil yourself, not take the vehicle home to find the hood welded shut and look in the manual to find that only the manufacturer can make repairs to the car. Fair use is what you can do with a product that does not infringe on what it is intended usage is for.
In the last month or two I have noticed more attempts at the media industry at large to encroach on our fair use of their products. A recent case has the music industry going up against the site youtube.com and its users. This site hosts videos ranging from video blogs, TV clips and home videos, all for free. They are not asking them (the creators of the videos) to take down music videos ripped from MTV or bootlegged videos from concerts but asking them to remove videos of kids lip-syncing there favorite songs. This seems a bit far fetched but true. The next logical step seems to be not permitting music listeners to hum their favorite song or to sing along with a song while driving. I cannot help but to think this is coming to close to home, if the music industry wants to stop piracy, great, make it happen the economy and artists will be better off. If they want to squash my rights as a consumer, stop, and let me do with my music and other goods as I please.
This all leads back to DRM, DRM is a way corporations can exercise control over something they produce without needing a physical way of enforcing it i.e. people. For instance, you purchase music on iTunes by clicking "buy" you are actually signing a license agreement to each song that you will abide by the rules that Apple sets. Apple is not the only culprit, as you probably have noticed, DVDs have warnings at the beginning, when you purchase that DVD you are doing the same. Another is the operating system on your computer, products like Microsoft Windows, Office, Nortons Anti-Virus and Apple OSX all have user agreements that when you purchase and install the software you agree to their terms. These are called End User Licensing Agreements (EULA). In the end these limit your fair use of the product like you anti-virus software in the same way that a car with the hood welded shut does.
Finally, I do not want this to come off as a rant, bashing large corporations and industries. It's not, they make products we all use and most of them are very good products indeed. But I want everyone to think about what they purchase and what they sign, it may not be as hip as the Apple commercials lead you to believe.