New term in taxonomy: Digital Rights Management (DRM)

I have added a new term in the taxonomy: Digital Rights Management (DRM). Since this system is more properly seen as a replacement to copyright, it was decided that a separate term from PCT was needed.

There is considerable confusion around this term. In WIKIPEDIA Digital Rights Management is defined as "an umbrella term for any of several arrangements which allows a vendor of content in electronic form to control the material and restrict its usage in various ways that can be specified by the vendor." This is not the case for the most common and controversial form of DRM.

There is most often three parties involved in DRM: the copyright holder, the vendor of the DRM, and the owner of the communications device. In all situations the purpose of DRM is to revoke control from the owner of the device and put it in someone else's hands. It is most often suggested that this control would be vested in the copyright holder.

What the copyright holder actually does is encode their license agreement indicating what is allowed in a specific DRM file format. This format is encrypted such that it can only be decoded by devices authorized by the DRM vendor. The DRM decoder which is in control of the communications tools of audiences then decodes the DRM file and in theory it acts upon it.

It is important to realize that it is the DRM vendor, not the copyright holder, that is actually in control of the device. They have possibly 3 conflicting mandates: to obey the commands of the owner of the device, to obey the license of the copyright holder, or to do what would best serve the interests of the DRM vendor itself. It should be obvious that it is this third mandate to do what is in the DRM vendors own interests that trump everything else. It is because of this that DRM is seen as the outsourcing of copyright and other cultural and communications policy to these DRM vendors.

In the past, communications tools were manufactured in a free market economy, and were owned and controlled by those who purchased them. We are now being forced into a world where the Information and Communications Technology sector is being required to ask permission to create communications tools, and there these tools are no longer allowed to be in the control of their owners. The opportunity for abuse is considerable, and this policy not only threatens creators rights but many other human rights as well.

In past articles such as Why creators should oppose DRM I tried to warn creators that DRM is not in their best interests. They need to remember that all communications tools that they use to create their own works can also be used by a copyright infringer to infringe on the rights of others. This means that when they ask for DRM they are really asking for these large media companies to be given control over all tools used to create and communicate all works. This is a situation where the proposed treatment is considerably worse than the disease.

Note: This term should not be confused with the term Technological Protection Measures, or TPM. TPMs have many different forms which protect different things such as identity and privacy. DRM is a very specific configuration of TPMs used to ensure privacy in the communication of a work between the sender of the work and tools under the control of a DRM vendor, specifically protecting the work from being able to be directly access from the intended recipient of the message.

As a form of TPM, DRM will always be easy to circumvent as TPMs were never intended to be able to be used to protect a third party against the intended recipient. In a speech given to Microsoft on June 17, 2004, Cory Doctorow explains how the technological aspects of DRM systems don't work and why they can never work.