DRM: Defectis Repleta Machina

As you start your brand new car to go to the beach, you realize it won’t let you do it. Murphy’s law can often make it seem like mechanical failures are nature’s way of opposing your wishes. But what if the car manufacturer had reasoned that, by selling you a car that will take you to work but not to have fun at the beach, it would be able to sell you another car specifically for beach visits?

“The Right to Read” [R2R], published in the magazine Communications of the ACM (CACM), one of the best-regarded publications in computing, prophesied in 1996 the pervasive use of software and remote monitoring as tools to control access to knowledge and culture. In the article, textbooks and articles are only available electronically, and students are forbidden from sharing them with their colleagues; monitoring software on every computer, and severe penalties upon those that merely appear to be attempting to circumvent it, pretty much ensure compliance. After a mere 10 years, we may get the impression that the author got it both right and wrong. Access restrictions are indeed already present in some electronic textbooks and articles, but they have showed up far more often in the entertainment field, limiting access to music, movies, etc. Are we facing a problem even bigger and worse than the CACM article forecast?

DRM, for Digital Restrictions Management, means any technique that seeks to artificially limit, by software, hardware or a combination thereof, the features of a digital device with regards to access or copying of digital content, so as to privilege whoever ultimately imposes the technique (e.g., not the DVD player manufacturer, but the movie industry),

— source fsfla.org | Alexandre Oliva

Nullius in verba


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