Saturday, February 6, 2010

eBooks, music, and the DRM

Debate is raging about DRM enabled books throughout the Nerdverse. With Apple releasing a new ebook reader (iPad), which will soon be competing with the Amazon Kindle and the Sony eReader, blogs are abuzz with debate on the merits and flaws of DRM and eBooks in general.

On one hand, text is the -absolutely- easiest commodity to pirate on the internet. The internet was basically constructed to send text messages. Think about it, if the internet were created to distribute video or audio, it would have been named "television" or "radio" (respectively). Sharing textual information is primal to the Internet's nature. Now that eInk devices are being widely distributed, and with them the ability to easily consume stolen text, book piracy will shoot through the stratosphere!

I cant stress this enough; piracy of books is 100x easier to pirate than music, the only mitigating factor against absolutely wide spread book theft is that books lack a medium to consume the pilfered pirate gains. eReaders are this medium. The Amazon kindle is to books what the Mp3 player is to music.

DRM can protect against the impending rampant piracy. DRM can limit the majority of society to be unable to freely redistribute digital purchases, thus ensuring that the costs of creating artistic works is covered.

There are, however, some serious drawbacks to DRM for our societies general social wellbeing! DRM allows a corporation-which by definition, is solely dedicated to profits- to be a single access point to art. DRM allows a company such as Amazon to control what access YOU have to your favourite books. Amazon has already proven its 'culture controlling' power when it removed access to the novel 1984 from customers who had previously purchased it. This power provided by DRM technology is akin to giving a company the ability to remove everyone's Beatles albums!

For the record, there has never been a greater irony on this earth than a corporation causing denial of access to the novel 1984.

Even beyond corporations willful denial of access to art is the unfortunate but accidental ways DRM can cause customers to lose access to their purchased books. If amazon were to to suddenly experience bankruptcy and stop producing the Kindle reader, customers would lose access to their purchases once their Kindles wore out and were unable to be replaced. If all of society used Kindles rather than paper books, this would be a societal disaster akin to the bank implosions of 2007-2009.

My answer to the eBook DRM paradox- where it is a cultural necessary to limit access to media in order to ensure the continued creation of art, yet it is a cultural necessary to NOT limit access to media in case of irrevokable artistic loss and degredation of consumer freedom- is to establish a benevolent hegemony which righteously and judiciously oversees and controls the usage of DRM.

I suggest either the establishment of a government agency to be a central repository for DRM keys and DRM decryption, or some heavily regulated corporation to perform the same task. An entity similar to the public library system or Canada Post. DRM is sadly, a necessity. However it is necessary to remove the overwhelming power granted by DRM out of the control of profit interested companies.

Any thoughts?

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