Friday, February 22, 2013

WTFriday: DRM!

The mere mention of "DRM" seems to set people's blood boiling nowadays. It's like a black hole.

Most people don't really know what it is, but they know that it sucks massively.

People associate DRM with various kinds of software shackles that limit their ability to fully enjoy the digital products they've bought. This might encompass songs that can only be transferred to a limited number of devices, games that will only launch when connected to the internet, and e-books that are optimized for certain platforms.

Now, three independent bookstores are suing Amazon and the Big Six publishers over the notion that Amazon's Kindle DRM unfairly restricts competition by forcing Kindle owners to buy e-books only from Amazon (Shelf Awareness points out that this isn't true--readers can convert ebooks in other formats to the Kindle-friendly MOBI) and preventing Kindle e-books from being read on anything but a Kindle or Kindle app.

It's nothing new that people expect a degree of flexibility from digital products that they never have from physical products. I suspect that this has to do with the idea that limits on physical products have always been natural whereas DRM is an extra chunk of code that content creators have added to products just to mess with us.

I've never met, for instance, a reader who expected to be able to convert his hardcover book to paperback when the luggage space was scarce. Or a gamer who was surprised when her copy of Dead Space for PlayStation 3 didn't also ship with an Xbox disc. And when my old Michael Jackson HIStory cassettes warped to the point where everything sounded like it was being played underwater, well. HIStory was history.

That's not to say that many complaints about DRM aren't justified or that there isn't a better system. It's just to say that, if the indie bookstores want to go all David-and-Goliath on Amazon, they're going to need to sling something a little stronger.

"Digital Lard" by Paul Downey. CC-BY license.

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