I enjoy both of Lloyd Shepherd's blogs. His work blog, given that he is Deputy Director of Digital Publishing at Guardian Unlimited, helps me see into the world of commercial publishing and follow the developments at his paper. His most recent post calls on Chris Anderson's question, 'how much DRM is too much?'. He goes on to say:
… let’s face it: we’re going to have to have some DRM. At some level,
there has to be an appropriate level of control over content to make it
economically feasible for people to produce it at anything like an
industrial level. And on the other side of things, it’s clear that the
people who make the consumer technology that ordinary people actually use - the Microsoft's and Apples of the world - have already accepted and embraced this. The argument has already moved on.
Hang on a moment! Who's had this argument? Did I blink and miss the
great national and international debates? Lloyd asks:
… 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
Ah, if only these kinds of questions were being asked by the DRM-generating industries in frank and open discussion with their customers and artists! That there have been more narrowly conceived
commercial decisions and that these arguments have 'moved on' is evident almost everywhere one looks, and, as Lloyd acknowledges fulsomely, copyfighters and those who have a vision for the net (as something other than just another 'content distribution system') have been shouting about developments for a long while now. Here, DRM is of great concern, but it's the very nature of the net that is at the heart of the matter. Some recent examples … Julian Bond (yesterday, writing about Google's plan to open an online video store):
The fly in this ointment is indeed DRM. … Amazon, AOL, Apple, Microsoft, Yahoo!, Real and now Google have all
jumped the fence and landed on the other side as content intermediaries
no different from the old media businesses. So now they're part of the
problem not a potential solution. And sitting in the middle of all this
is Intel whose close ties with all these players mean that they're more
than happy to build in the hardware controls to support it.
Doc Searls (November, '05):
All the big boys: the PC makers, the chip makers, the mobile equipment
providers, the "consumer experience" deliverers (including Virgin, its many
holdings and the rest of the entertainment industry), the patent, copyright and
IP (Intellectual Property) absolutists, the parochial national interests,
and — most of all — the carriers by the grace of whose fiber and wiring the Net
is made available — all want to control you: what you can do with their
services and devices, what you can buy, who you can buy it from, and how you can
use it. The free and open Internet, a World of
Ends built on an end-to-end, peer-to-peer architecture, is slowly being
privatized and nationalized, one DRM file, one blocked port, one platform silo,
one walled data garden, one legislative action, one regulatory decree, one
Supreme Court decision and one national
cyberwall after another.
This is what we are fighting, folks. The open and free marketplace the
Internet provides is shortly going to look like the best darn mess of
few-to-many distribution systems for "content" the world has ever known. It will
not be the free and open marketplace it was in the first place, and should
remain. The end-state will [be] a vast matrix of national and private silos and
walled gardens, each a contained or filtered distribution environment. And most
of us won't know what we missed, because it never quite happened.
Rafael Behr, editor, Observer online, concluding his article 'Access Denied' (Observer, September, '05):
Not everyone is
pessimistic. In fact, a lot of long-term web users are utopian about
the future. All the hyperbole that was first draped around the web has
proved inadequate. In the way it transforms and accelerates the
communication of ideas between individuals and societies, it is about
as big as the invention of the alphabet. And it is free. But for how
long? The machinery of government and big business is only just
beginning to understand the scale of the web. The culture of common
purpose that prevails today is a product of neglect as much as design.
The real gold rush has barely begun. To experience the sharing culture
of the blogosphere today is like living in a commune built on an oil
field. One day, the diggers will move in.
is the last generation that will remember the analogue world and feel
the difference between the two realms. For the next generation of
digital natives, the web will be a slick, commercial machine. It will
be just as big as the world we currently live in and it will be just as
ruthless and as corrupt.
hope I am wrong. I listen to today's web gurus, the people who preach
freedom, and am fired with enthusiasm for the new digital society of
the future. But I fear the odds are against them. An excess of idealism
only seems to prove that the golden age of the web is, in fact, right
And, finally, David Weinberger at the OII last November: 'This could be the bright, shiny period of the internet, of openness'.
What's missing is precisely the public debate — about DRM, about the net. (See Lee's comment to Lloyd's post: 'People don’t actually know much about DRM and therefore cannot be expected to
make a reasoned judgement about its side effects'.) ORG has been created to help address this here in the UK (further links via this posting), but the challenge ahead is huge.
Meantime, DRM is developing apace and the latest news I've come across concerning it again justifies the kinds of concerns being voiced — David Berlind (writing two days ago):
I've been warning about the unprecedented levarage that the DRM patent holders
will be able to apply to content distribution channels such as the
telecommunication networks. Having multiple incompatible DRM schemes out there
is bad enough. All these devices that are incompatible with each other (some
from the same manufacturer like Motorola)? Being forced to match devices to
content sources on the basis of DRM compatibility? It's ridiculous. But
disabling MP3? If it's true, this crosses the line …
I don't know the answers to the questions Lloyd poses, but I know what I value in the net and I know that DRM absurdities (some choice ones from the walled garden of iTunes/iPod) are undermining the very customer bases they were created to protect. In that self-inflicted damage, there lies some hope, at least.
Technorati tags: DRM, copyfight, ORG