Last night, I read a very interesting editorial by Nate Anderson over at Ars Technica. The focus was a recent speech by Deborah Taylor Tate, one of the five FCC commissioners. In this speech, Tate praises DRM and argues in favor of draconian ISP network filtering to fight the scourge of digital piracy.
Reading the transcript of the speech, it's obvious that Tate's views on DRM, piracy, and network neutrality are at odds with reality, and firmly in the court of the RIAA and MPAA. That's fine -- opinions are just opinions, after all, even if hers can directly influence policy and legal concerns regarding these matters. But we'd be remiss if we didn't point out what's really happening in the world and on the Internet, since it's clear that so many politicians and their appointees have a highly skewed sense of which way the wind is blowing.
Let's start with DRM. Tate doesn't really have a dog in the DRM fight, and it's relatively curious that she mentioned it at all, but her remarks on ISP-level filtering for copyrighted content does brush shoulders with DRM.
So let's just get this straight: DRM has already failed.
The only winners in the world of DRM are the companies that have been paid large sums of money to develop highly complex, invasive, and ultimately useless DRM and copy protection schemes. Consumers lose this battle constantly when legally purchased games won't play on their PC because they have the temerity to have two CD-ROM drives, have Daemon Tools installed, or the moon isn't in the second house (warning: extremely salty language, probably not safe for work). They lose when their legally purchased music won't play on any device because the service offering the locked media is shut down, or when they try to open a legally obtained application in a location where there isn't any network access, only to be told that they can't use it because the authorization servers cannot be contacted. Examples like these occur constantly, all across the globe. The only group that isn't negatively impacted by DRM is the pirates themselves. It's more or less trivial to circumvent any DRM or copy protection scheme, and the fact that fully functional cracks exist for just about every piece of software ever released bears that out. Thus, normal users that have paid for their software, game, music, or movie run into walls when simply trying to use their purchases while the pirates skate right on by with a knife in their teeth and a parrot on their shoulder. It's not just a case of arresting a crowd to find the criminal, it's a case of arresting a crowd and missing the criminal -- every single time.