With the European Greens’ adoption of the Pirate perspective on the copyright monopoly, I have received a few questions from entrepreneurs, the copyright industry lobby, and libertarians why we want to ban Digital Restrictions Management. It’s a good question that deserves a good answer.
First of all, DRM is a type of fraud that robs citizens of their lawful rights. The copyright monopoly is chock full of exceptions that allow copying in many circumstances; DRM takes no notice of this whatsoever but establishes and enforces a superset of restrictions that goes well above and beyond those of the law.
Therefore, to begin with, a ban on DRM can be seen as a form of consumer protection.
Second, it doesn’t matter if Parliament writes laws — which is its job — if corporations can rewrite those laws at their own leisure with the help of technology. It is also Parliament’s job to make sure that writing laws remains Parliament’s job, and in particular, that it doesn’t bend over to the wishes of a special interest.
But while these two points are important, the third is the most important of all. Libertarians, in particular, have asked me why an open and honest goods declaration and a legal right to circumvent DRM isn’t enough. If people want to buy DRM-defective goods which are clearly declared to be so, and corporations want to sell them, then what is the problem?
Let me illustrate by drawing parallels — as I often do — to the shift in attitude that followed the rise of the Greens 40 years ago.
A few years ago, the European Union banned lead. As in “banned lead, period”. You can find the stamp “RoHS” on many electronics products, which is short for “Reduction of Hazardous Substances”. As the solder needed to create circuit boards in all our electronics was a mixture of molten lead and tin, every piece of electronics manufacture on the planet needed to be retooled, recalibrated, reinvented. It was a huge undertaking, as the replacement lead-free solder had different operating temperatures, which in turn put new stresses on the boards and long-term stability, and so on.
So let’s ask the same question. If a technically savvy corporation argues that it is sound engineering and profitable business to use lead in electronics (which it is), and people want to buy the electronics that contain lead, then what is the problem?
It is exactly the same problem as with DRM.
As a politician, I have other concerns than sound engineering and profitable businesses. It is my job — it is my damn responsibility — to take a larger view and look ahead, decades ahead, generations ahead. I fully support the ban on lead for this reason. And it is the same reason that I support a ban on DRM.
It is toxic. DRM is toxic. Just like lead. And needs to be banned for exactly the same reasons.
DRM poisons the free flow, analysis, remix, and usage of information. It requires a very specific set of conditions to operate, conditions that won’t exist five or ten years into the future. (Have you tried playing a five-year-old DRM-defective game?) It poisons the information ecosystem.
As the free exchange of TICKs — Tools, Ideas, Culture, and Knowledge — is essential to the industries, citizens and social life of the next generation, I fully support banning a practice that outright poisons the ecosystem where this exchange needs to thrive.
The Greens supported banning freon in their early days and banning lead recently, despite both substances being good engineering, good business, and attrative end-user products. This is the way it should be, and this is why I support banning DRM. There are other concerns that take precedence in lawmaking than short-term profits.