FTC gets an earful from the public on DRM, practically all of it anti-

The FTC's public hearing on DRM is a smash sensation -- they're being flooded with anti-DRM comments, mostly from gamers:
The Federal Trade Commission wants to know about DRM, and it's hosting a March conference on the topic. The agency looks set to get an earful–today is the final day to file public comments, and more than 700 individuals have already done so. Surprisingly, the main concerns in the comments don't appear to be about DVDs or protected music files but about video games. If FTC staff didn't know much about SecuRom, Spore, install limits, and activation codes before the conference, they will soon be experts on the topics.

The big players in these sorts of public hearings follow a predictable plan: they hold their filings until the final day for submissions, apparently out of a desire not to tip their hand to opponents and give them a chance to directly address their arguments. The strategy appears to be in play in the DRM proceeding, with only a fistful of corporate or think thank names appearing among the 700 current submissions.

700 comments tell the FTC "No DRM!"


  1. FIG PASTE: Insects (AOAC 964.23) Contains 13 or more insect heads per 100 grams of fig paste in each of 2 or more subsamples


  2. Oops… wrong post. :( I must have refreshed and bb added another article. How dare y’all!!

    Anyway, yes, I’d like my insoluble organic matter and insect parts to be DRM-free. And fig paste-free.

  3. I think DRM technology is perfectly acceptable, so long as it is used solely for DRM.

    Remember when the banks told us that ATMs would cut their costs and make it cheaper and easier for us to do business with them? Now they charge us ridiculous fees for even checking our bank balances on other institution’s ATMs, wherever allowed by law.

    Remember when widely-available credit was going to make it possible to acquire the items you need now and pay them off over time, thereby increasing the liquidity of the financial institutions and providing them a means to secure their own credit with other institutions?
    Now, employers use your secret dossier – I mean, Credit Report to determine whether they wish to hire you.

    Remember when DRM was about managing the rights of authors, instead of circumventing the First Sale doctrine and anti-monopolistic-practices legislation?

  4. The only time DRM makes sense is under a “rental” model. If I pay two lousy bucks to be able to watch some instructional video I downloaded for a week- I can accept that, about the same as a video rental store. If I pay a few hundred dollars for music that I should be able to listen to for life, then it breaks because the DRM server is discontinued after a couple years – that is theft.

  5. @#5: No, I don’t remember that last one. It’s always been an end-run around consumer rights, as far as I’ve been aware.

  6. Okay, I’d like to soften my earlier stance a little. #6 does point out a scenario where the aims of DRM are not morally repugnant, it’s just the practicalities of implementing it that are. To extend the metaphor: in the rental scenario, DRM is analogous to the rental store insisting that you install a CCTV system in your living room so that they can make sure you’re not doing anything naughty. (And deactivate your entertainment center if they think you are.)

  7. @5: Before the ATM, you couldn’t check your balance from a different bank at all. The effective cost of that service has gone down from effectively-infinite to between $1 and $5. Not too bad.

    (My bank doesn’t even charge for getting a balance from another ATM, although the bank hosting the ATM does.)

  8. Retchdog: Their costs are effectively a small fraction of a cent – they have an established trust relationship and the request is handled by (extremely commoditised) hardware and software. The ridiculous fees are a way to make a ridiculous profit.

  9. Bardfinn: Well, yes. I am disgusted at the general fact that it is now considered a privilege for me to lend banks a substantial amount of money… i.e., no interest; gratuitous fees which affect only the poor; &c. If my money were more substantial enough for these dead-weight parasites called bankers I’d be treated better. This infuriates me.

    In light of this, however, the ATM is just one small plank in the Doomed Ship of State/corporate merger. At least I get something out of the ATM network…

  10. #5: “I think DRM technology is perfectly acceptable, so long as it is used solely for DRM.” goes undefended in your post and says virtually nothing.

    DRM is always objectionable because it’s primarily about doing things that aren’t in the public’s interest: bolster monopoly and assert unjustifiable control. The EFF has published an enlightening paper on how DRM is sold on the basis of enforcing copyright claim but is overwhelmingly used to deny user’s freedom to control their own stuff and use it in completely non-infringing ways. Copyright infringement is the “foot in the door” to let publishers and copyright holders get what they really want: increased end-user control.

    We don’t need DRM to prop up a rental model. Rental apparently works without DRM (DVD DRM has long since been broken and never stopped any illicit copying). I’d argue that if DRM had been a part of videocassette players Hollywood studios wouldn’t have been able to so effectively resell and rent their movies to consumers (a huge business) and home taping wouldn’t have been so widespread.

    Users always suffer the effects of DRM control. They apparently become aware of the effects of it every time it backfires. And it always backfires.

    Remote DRM controllers eventually go away leaving users with no means to use services/products they paid for (Major League Baseball, Ruckus, and almost Wal-Mart for instance). Even when a new DRM controller is employed (thus resuming service), there’s a window of time where people are denied access to the stuff they should have access to and this is enough to make people aware of who is really in charge with DRM. DRM helps users lose control of their computers via proprietary software (there’s no way to implement DRM with free software which respects user’s freedom to control their computer and cooperate fully). DRM can be used to deny fair use. Libraries buy DRM-riddled material (eBooks, for instance) with no clear means of legally breaking the DRM to ensure utility for future patrons. DRM makes leveraging first-sale rights harder (Hotelling’s experience with iTunes).

    As DRM is put into more systems, it might be used on systems we depend on for unquestionably important things like potable water, clean air, and alerting us to environmental disasters. We aren’t better off dealing in systems we don’t really control.

  11. JB NicholsonOwens
    As much as I hate DRM, I have an equal problem with sharing and pirating of various media at the level that goes on here in the internet. While DRM treats ALL media customers like criminals, the percentage of of people who become criminals because they can get “something for nothing” off of a pirate site or torrent is unacceptably high. I don’t think the evolving model of DRM-free music will work for video or games for a while yet because the production costs are an order of magnitude higher for those media. And when the costs come down, every amateur in the world will be posting high quality 3-D simulated stories on YouTube.

    Perception is a big problem on both sides: The media companies and creators think that every pirated copy is a lost sale, where in reality it’s probably only 20%. So much piracy is done by students who can’t afford to buy expensive software or large media collections. If there were no “free” pirated media available, their actual spend would probably be on 10-20% of the value of the stuff they are currently downloading. So the losses reported by the media companies are probably off by a factor of 6 or so.

    On the other side, the problem is related to the consumer culture of “I want it now!” rather than “Do without until you can afford it, or if it’s overpriced just do without.” The “I want it now” attitude has basically blinded people to the the ethical blunder they are making by enjoying the fruits of others’ labor without paying for it. I also call this the “street mentality”, since a lot of it is basically an attitude created by the perception that others have an unfair economic advantage over you. In most cases it’s based in the reality of the truly poor, but in the case of the media piracy the perpetrators generally are prosperous enough to have access to a computer or other internet device for the long periods required to play the media. It also seems to be something most people grow out of. Back in the days of the BBSs, I was a little less concerned (OK, a lot less concerned) about the harm that illegal downloads would cause. And the harm WAS smaller in the aggregate back then: There were a lot fewer people doing it, and they were doing it a lot more slowly (2400 bps, etc.).

    Piracy on a small scale is like when people listen to a street musician without tipping; here the harm is relatively small. Also, by playing in public, the musician has accepted the risk that not all listeners will pay. In contrast, when someone publishes a game or DVD, they aren’t offering it on an honor-system payment plan. It only becomes available for free when one of their customers (or one of their own employees) puts a copy up on a torrent or website. The producers and distributors never signed up for that risk.

    So does anybody out there have a solution to at least cut piracy down to a reasonable level that DOESN’T involve DRM? Oh, and btw, the method has to be stable while moving from a model where a DVD costs $20 to where a download costs $3-5 or so.

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