Copyright in the Digital Age

I wrote a piece a few days ago about Amazon, the Kindle, and the line between copyright and ownership. I’d like to follow that up with a few observations about the problem of digital encryption (also known as DRM—Digital Rights Management, better called Digital Restriction Management) on your property.

The difficulty is that copyright law doesn’t really allow artists to keep the sort of stranglehold they want to have on digital copies of their work. Once purchased, an artist doesn’t have the right to storm into your living room and demand you hand over an illegal copy of their work. Nor does it give them the right to decide what computers or how many computers you can put your property on. It does not allow them to restrict your printing rights of digital copies. The reason copyright does not prevent these activities is because they fall happily into fair use protection and are within the legal right of the owner to do.

We only tolerate this sort of thing because we have no other options. Imagine how it would go for George Foreman grills, if they started placing restrictions on how many times you could use their grills in a week? Would you buy a DVD if you paid 19.95 for it, but it only allowed you to watch it five times? How about if your DVD came with software that only allowed you to watch it on players with the authorized installation? And what if you could only install that software three times? What are you supposed to do when your third DVD player breaks, or you’re over at a friend’s house and the kids want to watch a movie? We only take Amazon and iTunes seriously when they place such restrictions on us because somehow we think the internet makes everything different. That is, if we’re paying attention at all.

We need to be much less tolerant of these restrictions on our rights.

Just because “it’s the internet” doesn’t mean the game changes.

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