DRM stands for “copy protection” and refers to the various technologies that are used to deter the illegal copying and use of copyrighted material such as music, movies, and video. The problem is that DRM also prevents legitimate use of this material. Yesterday, Steve Jobs of Apple came out with a strong position against DRM technology in an essay posted on the Apple site. Why has he taken this stand? Because apparently he’s tired of all the complaints from people that the tunes and video downloaded from his company’s iTunes site won’t play on other brands of MP3 players. His position is that he would love to remove the restraints, but the copy protection is required by the content producers, and the terms of their arrangement make Apple responsible for any breaches of security. So Apple put up a “walled garden” to retain control of the system. Steve would rather take the wall down to give customers more freedom in how they use their downloaded media. This is certainly a good news for opponents of copy protection, as this is a forceful shove against the DRM house of cards.
The yin is balanced with yang this week, however. Viacom asked Google to remove about 100,000 video clips from its YouTube site, after failing to reach a revenue sharing agreement for the use of the clips. Viacom is well within their rights to ask for the removal; this is clearly copyrighted material that had been posted by people who did not have the rights to publish them. So YouTube pulled the files from their site. This is not the bad news; this is simply a normal part of doing business in the new world of video on the Internet. The bad news is this; right after the files were pulled, thousands were reposted by YouTube members. This is bad news because it will increase the overhead costs for YouTube to police its collections, and for Viacom to monitor the site for continued violations. The ultimate losers will be the very customers who ignored the copyright laws by reposting the removed files, along with the rest of us.
If we want the companies that produce the content that we enjoy to watch and hear, then we will have to behave in ways that let these companies make a fair return on their efforts. If that cost is too high for us as consumers, then we don’t have to buy from them. You don’t see lots of people stealing Maseratis and saying it is because the price is too high. Support the services that provide legitimate access to copyrighted content that you want at a price that is acceptable; this will be the fastest route to removing onerous copy protection on all our downloads.