The Day against DRM and Its Significance

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This is Celia Hirschman with On the Beat for KCRW.

This week, in small groups around the world, protests against Digital Rights Management took center stage. Digital Rights Management, otherwise known as DRM, is the computer code used to restrict file usage. Hardware and software manufacturers as well as online music stores like iTunes attach DRM rules to files before releasing them to consumers. The rules control how and when consumers can make copies of the songs, films, software, and other digital media. DRM differs between manufacturers and between online stores and not one DRM rule applies to all. Though seemingly created to stop piracy, there are other limitations that DRM imposes. Whether you can transfer files from one system to another, how many times and when are all issues that DRM directs. Some argue that with large companies devising the code, restrictions may serve the company's interests, not the consumers.

The protests were organized by the Free Software Foundation. The group directed anti-DRM advocates to stage demonstrations online, and on the street. October 3rd was set aside as the "Day against DRM" and this past Tuesday, in major markets like London, Paris, New York, Sydney, Zurich, and Amsterdam, citizens voiced their opposition to the code.

Small passionate demonstrations were staged at specific locations like Apple Computers where protesters wore colorful hazmat suits and handed out brochures. Others displayed "Get Rid of DRM" posters around their cities. Organizers also encouraged online actions, including mass emailing protesting DRM.

Though the dust hasn't settled, it's pretty clear that the Day against DRM was not particularly successful in turning the tide.

It's a complicated issue. One reason is that DRM means different things to companies, to creators and to consumers. Artists should be able to build careers knowing that their work is protected from mass duplication without compensation. At the same time, consumers shouldn't be forced to buy two copies of a piece of music, just so they can play them back on their different sound systems. A digital file is a digital file is a digital file and all digital files should be created equal. When consumers are held hostage to buy more products for the sake of arbitrary limitations imposed by manufacturers, I think it's unfair.

DRM has its place, and understanding this complicated issue is the first step in helping to craft a reasonable solution. Learn how DRM affects you and then talk to others about it.

Most people I know voice their opinions through first-name blogging and anonymous posting on the web. In many ways, we have become a society, quick to share our thoughts, but afraid to reveal our true identities. The web has given us the ultimate freedom to build our own brilliant utopia online. Instead we've settled for something that requires little risk. The price we pay, is our freedoms.

This is Celia Hirschman with On the Beat for KCRW.