The other day, I mentioned to someone whose opinion I respect that "I think DRM is necessary". His instant comeback was that DRM is dead. Forget it. It's useless junk.
It was hard to argue. From any thinking person's perspective DRM is useless junk. Recently Fred Wilson decided to Boycott the iTunes Music Store. Three cheers, Fred. Cory Doctorow has many excellent arguments against DRM. I couldn't even believe what I was saying really. DRM is necessary? Where's my head at?
So why did I say that?
Because I think of "Digital Rights" differently. When I think of digital rights management, I think of the rights of me, the music consumer. Yes, I want them to be managed, assured, and I want technology to serve my interests. I want to be able to watch and play what I buy where I want, without restriction, and yes, I think technology should assure me I can do that. But, there's no way to talk about that kind of technology and call it DRM. DRM is evil, and it's pointless. We need a new word.
I'll call it DRAT. Digital Rights Assurance Technology. That's what I want. DRAT.
What does DRAT do for you?
With DRAT, I am guaranteed that any content I buy will be mine forever. It doesn't matter if there's a new format 15 years from now. DRAT protects me. It makes sure that I'll be able to use it, even (or perhaps especially) if that new technology doesn't support DRAT. Such is the magic of DRAT.
DRAT guarantees me I never have to reacquire my music. If my house burns down, who cares. I bought my music with DRAT. DRAT keeps track of my ownership so long as I live, and I can always get another copy, if indeed copies are what's happening in my player. Is my player storing my DRAT music? Maybe. Hmm, pretty small little gadget. Oh well, I don't know how it works. The player just knows who I am, that I'm its owner, and therefore knows about all the DRAT content I should be able to listen to with it. Thanks DRAT.
More than that, DRAT means I don't have to store my content. If I just bought the new release of the 6-part Star Wars video content set, but I happen to be over at my friends house, I can watch it over there with my friends even though I didn't remember to bring it. There is no "bring it" in the world of DRAT. Why should there be? I'll be watching video on demand here at my home someday, and why should I have to "take it" to somebody else's house who has video on demand. DRAT is a major technology breakthrough for the VOD world since I never forget anything any more.
With DRAT, sharing is OK. I live with Grace, she has lots of music. Now that I've chosen DRAT, her music is suddenly available to me on my devices, in my car, on my computer. How did it get there? I don't know. It's probably not stored, right? It's somewhere. How does it know? Who cares! DRAT takes care of it. Grace told DRAT I'm allowed to listen to her music, and magically I am. It's great.
DRAT also does some surprising things. It protects my shareholdings in music. I love Pat Metheny. And now that I have DRAT, I know that the money I paid for Pat's music goes to him and anybody he decides to share it with. I know that because of DRAT, nobody has taken the music I own and deprived Pat of his livelihood. I like Pat. I want him to succeed and make more albums. Sometimes I tell DRAT to let other people listen to my Pat Metheny albums. Sometimes they start becoming Pat Metheny shareholders, and sometimes they don't. That's my decision because I own the music I bought. But, Pat trusts me and I trust him. And DRAT makes it all work.
- Assures me my content is mine forever
- Frees me from having to acquire every time I need a copy
- Eliminates my need to worry about storing it
- Allows me to decide how I share it
- Protects my sharholdings in the artists I care about
Where can I get DRAT?
It doesn't look like I can right now. The only people who seem to be working on DRAT are trying to use politics and evangelism, such as DigitalConsumer.org's Bill of Rights. The technology people are so distracted by DRM that they haven't been worrying about DRAT.
Can such things be solved with technology? Of course they can!
What about my money? Money is a digital commodity, managed with wire transfers, ATMs, credit cards, and legal instruments. My money is mine forever. I never have to reaquire it. I don't need to keep it under my mattress. And if I travel to another country, somehow magically my money is there too! And I didn't even have to "bring it all with me". Just like DRAT! Obviously, technology is solving the problem with money, and despite my mild displeasure with banks, I'd never accuse them of limiting the way I use it. I can give it to anybody, exchange it for any type of currency available, and (inflation notwithstanding) can use it 10 years from now just as easily as I can use it today.
The irony is that if you decide "I'll create DRAT", the first thing you might realize is that DRAT Version 0.5 Beta looks a lot like DRM. Somehow, you'd need to augment the formats we store now, adding additional data, like metadata. You'd need to figure out how to simultaneously make sure that owners were empowered and artist rights were respected by making the format open (such as TCP/IP).
So the DRM systems of today are one step needed for DRAT. But, alas, it seems a misstep. Nobody looks at DRM and focuses on the empowerment of the content owner. The "Rights Assurance" part of DRAT is virtually absent in DRM, and in fact has been replaced with "Rights Limitations".
One thing is certain. If I really had DRAT, I'd look for it on every player I bought. I'd want to be sure I used it, since I desparately want those benefits. If DRAT really served consumer needs, I bet lots of people would do the same. They'd want it on all their devices, just like Stereo, Dolby, or FM Radio. So, DRAT could be a stunning commercial success.
If you know of anybody creating DRAT, please let me know. Until then, I guess I just have to do without and keep navigating the unfortunate digital content space trying to obtain my assurances using whatever anarchistic means I can find.