The word “Right” has two major definitions. First, they are that which is morally or ethically proper. And second, a legal claim or title. These two things are usually in alignment, but there has been stiff debate on the topic of DRM, where these two definitions collide.
What is DRM? While the creator or publisher of content has a right to that content (specifically to sell that content for profit) the hubub over DRM is that DRM is a system to prevent the content producer’s rights by a kind of digital force. DRM takes many forms, from the password we have to type in when installing cyberceige, to the infamous securom found in some videogames. You see, there’s an unfortunate truth when dealing with digital content- If I can use it, I can copy it. In fact, I can often copy what I can’t use.
Ebooks are one of the stranger places DRM is found, both because the analogue to a real world example is so clear (and so strange) and because the challenge is so great. Essentially, imagine trying to prevent a user from copying and pasting text. Some of the big players in industry are trying their hardest, and it’s just not working. Well, were trying their hardest.
Many Ebook publishers have dropped DRM from their books. This makes it easier to do the intuitive things you think you can do with a book, without using a version where the DRM has been broken. (e.g., a pirated copy.)
What strange things does DRM do to books? Well, lets say you purchase a physical book at Barns and Noble. But the lady at the register has you sign some kind of EULA thing. It’s no big deal, though, right? I mean, what does that thing actually say anyway? Well… this- Amazon EULA. That’s a big wall of text, but lets look at a small section of that EULA. “Amazon or its content providers grant you a limited, non-exclusive, non-transferable, non-sublicensable license to access and make personal and non-commercial use of the Amazon Services.”
So that book you bought? You can’t loan it to anyone. Or let anyone else read it actually. You certainly can’t sell it to someone else. Oh, and if they decide they need to, they can take it back again. But come on, it’s not like they’d sneak into your house at night and steal (er, reclaim) your book, would they? That link is to an article a few years old, but the irony is pretty strong- I mean seriously, if you were going to take a book from someone, you’re telling me you picked 1984? (For those who don’t know it, George Orwell’s masterpiece is the best known father of all dystopian police states in fiction.) Is that really the book you want to remind people of at that particular moment?
So programs that remove digital rights management are of course illegal. The entertaining thing? They tend to be referred to as “Digital Rights Removal.” Okay, yeah, that squares with the second definition (Legal claim) but isn’t quite what we mean when we mention the first.