Piracy

A man, and it would have to be a man because women aren’t usually this stupid, invents the worlds most perfect gun in order to protect his property.  It is a weapon so advanced that it never misfires, it never jams, and it will always work regardless of the conditions and its level of maintenance.  One day, whilst cleaning it, he accidentally blows his head off.

Imagine if DRM had been invented in the sixteenth century.  If it had, then there is very little chance that we’d be enjoying the works of Shakespeare today.  We wouldn’t be able to – especially if the company which held the keys, the sixteenth century equivalent of Apple, Amazon or Microsoft, had since folded.  Some might argue that this is no bad thing.  After all, the real wonders of Rock’n’Roll were recorded in a pre-DRM era – and I doubt that future music historians will care all that much if the oeuvre of Lady Gaga sinks without trace into a digital morass.

If you want someone to be trustworthy, you need to trust them.  If you regard everyone as fundamentally untrustworthy then you shouldn’t be surprised if they turn out to be just that. Many developers and artists understand this concept.  You buy content (software, music, video etc), you install it, and there are no checks to see if you acquired the content legitimately or not.  This freedom means that you can give your content to someone else, provided that you stop using it yourself.  That might not be strictly in the terms of the license, but the content provider doesn’t lose out and it generates good feeling.

Unfortunately, the situation with an increasing number of providers is slightly different.  Once you install the content on one machine you can’t install it on another machine.  So if you upgrade your machine you’re now left with bin-fodder and you need to buy the content all over again.  Fair?  Definitely not.  And the result is that there are a remarkable number of ingenious crackers breaking the DRM and uploading the resultant file.

It’s true that DRM free content is no less likely to end up on a torrent site than that of less enlightened providers.  On the other hand there’s very little advantage (other than the financial one) to gaining it in this manner – and several significant disadvantages, not least the lack of support.

Piracy of heavily DRM’d content is a different matter.  In this case you lose the support but, in addition to the financial incentive, you also gain the ability to use your content wherever you like, on whatever you like, without the need for an internet connection and without the risk that one day your content will cease to work altogether.  Put like that, Piracy may be a crime – but it’s a crime that you’d be daft not to indulge in.

The obsession with DRM can be seen as the last thrashings of a dying industry. I’m not saying that we’ll no longer listen to music, watch video, or play games  – just that we’ll get our entertainment from other, DRM free, sources in the future.  This has already happened with music (so, unfortunately, Lady Gaga might be with us forever after all) and DRM free music is now commonly available.  Video is still locked down, but at least the locked down files can be played offline – and DVDs (and now BluRay) can be copied without too much difficulty. Software is a trickier proposition, with DRM that either requires the CD to be inserted during game play (wrecking battery life on portables, and rendering gameplay all but impossible on a MacBook Air) or, worse, that requires a constant connection to the internet.

DRM won’t kill software, video or any other media, but it will kill any provider who burdens content with protection more strenuous than a serial number.  Treated as criminals in this manner, users will either download the unencumbered version from a filesharing site or run into the welcoming arms of Open Source.  Linux.  Open Office.  Tremulous.  Hedgewars.  All good quality, and all absolutely free.  And best of all, nobody gets their head blown off.

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