Apple has taken a lot of heat for its DRM policies. But the “Defective By Design” campaign will raise the temperature a bit. I think this is both right, and unfair. Right because DRM is a really, really bad idea. Unfair because Apple, though they use DRM, is one of the least evil of DRM practitioners.
DRM is “Digital Rights Management”. But it is often called “Digital Restrictions Management”, because that is what it is. Apple’s version of DRM, the so-called FairPlay, is not as draconian as one might imagine however. The fact that there are ways to easily burn CDs, store Apple music on other computers, even use one’s iPod with linux shows that Apple’s DRM is quite flexible. Apple is a target because everyone knows what an iPod is. Not everyone knows what a Zune is though so why bother protesting against that?
This does not mean that DRM is good however, even when it is in the hands of a more responsible company like Apple. And Apple is being responsible about it. Today, the Gothenburg, Sweden newspaper, Göteborgs Posten, wrote about the Swedish and Norwegian consumer authorities meeting with representatives from Apple. The Swedes said that Apple was very willing to work towards a solution, directly addressing the issues the consumer authorities have and even eliminating one of their major concerns.
But the problem is not Apple. The problem is Warner Music, EMI, Sony, etc. The big media companies are the problem. They live in the world of litigation and mid-twentieth century business models that the Internet obviates. The internet flattens the world, makes selling music, (or anything for that matter,) transparent - it is easy to find the best price. The big media companies are afraid of this. Afraid that consumers will leave them if they stop forcing bland boy bands down their throats, afraid that people will be upset when they hear how little the artist gets from the media company, afraid that their influence will dwindle when their product is disintermediated, afraid that they no longer know how to reach comsumers now that they watch less TV and surf more.
DRM is not the answer. DRM forces the user to submit to reduced fair-use, limited functionality, and often intrusive software that invades the privacy of the purchaser without their prior knowledge. For example, if you want to back up a CD with DRM, you can’t because DRM prevents you. Yet if you disable the DRM on the CD you bought, you violate the law. Scary.