16 July 2005

DRM advocate gets bitten...by DRM


Digital rights management (DRM) is, in essence, a way of ensuring that the creator of a digital object (music, movie, software, Excel file, etc) controls who gets which rights (copy, change, etc) on that object.

This seems OK, yes? If you make something you should get to control what happens to it. There are a few problems with it, though. My clients are already starting to run into some of them. Generally, people want to impose more control than is warranted. Thus, I recently got a call from someone who'd received a spreadsheet from the UN, but wanted to reformat it to conform to Cambodian government requirements. He was unable to do this within the spreadsheet itself, because it was locked. In the end we solved it by doing a "select all", copy (can't change, but can copy?), and paste into a new sheet which could then be changed. Another problem I'm seeing is documents where the change history is included and locked, so that the document can't be given to the recipient without including all the changes, including things like "Minister X is an idiot and won't understand — reword".

And here's what happens when a DRM advocate runs into a DRM problem; he just circumvents it. The creators of software and content, and those who write DRM circumvention tools, are in an arms race, with ordinary users losing at every step.