August 23, 2005 | By Donna Wentworth

DRM By Any Other Name...

Yesterday, Sun Microsystems announced its new "Open Media Commons," with a goal of "[s]pecify[ing] open, royalty-free digital rights management and codec standards" to "ensur[e] intellectual property protection." The problem with this approach is that making DRM "open" and "royalty-free" doesn't make it any less damaging and counter-productive.

People have the legal right to make fair uses of content. They have the legal right to use materials in the public domain. They have the legal right to use publicly owned works, such as government-gathered facts. Any software system, open or not, that blocks us from making these legal uses of our digital content is bad, especially when the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) makes it illegal for us to circumvent the copyright protection to make these legal uses.

This "Open Media Commons" says a lot about fostering sharing and so forth, but there's precious little to indicate that it will be any less threatening than the Microsoft DRM that it's supposed to challenge.

Using "commons" in the name is unfortunate, because it suggests an online community committed to sharing creative works. DRM systems are about restricting access and use of creative works. We wish that Sun's announcement brought better news for people worried about DRM taking away their rights, but it doesn't.

If you want to do something positive to protect your rights to use your media as you choose, visit EFF's action center and tell your representative to support the Digital Media Consumers' Rights Act (DMCRA, HR 1201). That bill would permit people to circumvent DRM on media in order to make a legal use of that media. Here's the link.

Update: For a discussion about the logical impossibility of a perfectly compatible, perfectly transparent DRM system, see Edward Felten's A Perfectly Compatible Form of Incompatibility.

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