Digital Rights Management removal oddly named

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.


7 thoughts on “Digital Rights Management removal oddly named

  1. my question is how can these companies place DRM on books in the first place? Physical and digital medium are two entirely different things, and I understand that. However, implementing DRM on digital books would imply that libraries that loan physical books are guilty of various forms of copyright infringement. By the logic of digital DRM, the IP owner should be paid per person who reads the material, and libraries sure are not charging patrons per check out are they?

    • DRM can only be applied to digital copies. At least as far as I know, a lot of the laws concerning this kind of thing are out of date. Hence the physical analogy, which makes it easier to understand what’s going on with bits and suchlike.

  2. Back to the whole DRM topic, when the second Assassin’s Creed game was released Bioware required you to be connected to the Internet to verify the license of the game. If other companies required you to constantly be connected to the Internet to use their product whether it be a book, game, movie there would be a drastic drop in sales.

    • Most publishers have their own special brand of DRM, and it isn’t hurting them as badly as you’d think it would. Take a look at Diablo III for example- that wasn’t just requiring a connection to the internet, that actually made the whole game take place on a server. A server which crashed launch day. (Lag in a singleplayer game. Ayup, that was well planned.) A game which also sold over 3 million copies.
      Or heck, look at a chromebook. People are willing to put up with an extraordinary amount of hassle via DRM.

  3. You’re right about what was discussed in class; it makes absolutely no sense to assign “rights” with restrictions to digital copies of a work without thinking about the “what-ifs” of it being applied to a physical copy.

    Would the DRM be what is used in the Xbox 360 when you install a game to your harddrive but need the physical disc in the tray to operate? I’ve always wondered how it secures beyond association.

    • That sounds like a kind of DRM, yeah. I don’t know how Xboxes work off the top of my head.

      Bit of advocatus diaboli here. The restrictions of digital copies are in response to the fact that there actually is a very distinct difference between a physical copy and the digital copy. It is effectively free to create more digital copies. (Yeah yeah, cost of electricity and data storage. Neither of which is a particularly big number.) It takes very little effort on the part of the person doing the copy. And you could copy large amounts of manpower. Hundreds of people working for a year to make something, stolen by one teenager with a flashdrive and uploaded for the internet to see. The extremely draconian measures taken in response are not entirely out of proportion. I side with the GNU people personally, and this blog post is written with that slant, but it’s not a onesided arguement.

  4. I wonder if any legal action has been taken against a person who happen to loan an eBook with DRM. I’ll have to look this up, my best guess is that it might be like the pirating cases where seemingly random people were hit with these huge fines.

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