Today I happened to notice a really amusing blog post by way of The Passive Voice, called “10 Reasons Why Being a Writer is Like Being Santa Claus.” The blog post itself is pretty funny, though probably not entirely topical for TeleRead in and of itself. (I could probably stretch a point and say something about writers who self-publish, but even that would feel like reaching.)
Furthermore, it’s ineffective. This isn’t a form of DRM where you need to crack encryption. All you need to do is tell your web browser, “Okay, stop doing what that web site tells you and do what I tell you instead.” Is trying to lock down content like that really doing to do anything more than annoy someone who knows their way around web browsers?
And what kind of contempt does that show for your readers? Copying and pasting a relevant paragraph here and there is one of the primary ways people relate to content now. It’s how we share it with our friends who might lack the time or inclination to go visit the URL unless we prompt them with a tempting tidbit. Everybody does that.
And when you get right down to it, this is effectively a parable for digital rights management in general. Yes, stripping the DRM from e-books is a little more complicated and involved, and it relies on someone out there being willing to do the grunt work for you of coding up a way to crack the digital lock. But once that code is out there, anyone willing to Google it and download it can do it, so any e-book you buy from Amazon or Barnes & Noble or even check out of your local library can be freed of its fetters just by dragging and dropping it into Calibre.
The same holds true for movies. The DRM on DVDs was defeated long ago by DVDJon. Even the DRM on Blu-rays, which changes every so often, is re-cracked just as soon as it changes; the only practical effects of changing Blu-ray DRM are to make Blu-ray players that can no longer update their firmware to deal with the new DRM obsolete, and allow the manufacturers of the DRM-cracking tools to sell expensive lifetime subscriptions for updates to their tool. Small wonder that Steve Jobs prompted music labels to drop DRM on digital music sales!
That doesn’t make it legal, and it certainly doesn’t make it morally right to redistribute those cracked copies via peer-to-peer. But illegal isn’t the same as infeasible—and prohibiting a user operation such as copying and pasting or viewing source doesn’t make it infeasible either.