- Digital rights management sounds unobjectionable on paper: Consumers purchase certain rights to use creative works and are prevented from violating those rights. Who could balk at that except the pirates? Fair is fair, right? Well, no.
In reality, our legal system usually leaves us wiggle room. What's fair in one case won't be in another - and only human judgment can discern the difference. As we write the rules of use into software and hardware, we are also rewriting the rules we live by as a society, without anyone first bothering to ask if that's OK.
....DRM is barreling down the pike.
The usual criticism is that the scheme gives too much power to copyright holders. But there's a deeper problem: Perfect enforcement of rules is by its nature unfair. For contrast, consider how imperfectly rules are applied in the real world.
....For us to talk, argue, try out ideas, tear down and build up thoughts, assimilate and appropriate concepts - heck, just to be together in public - we have to grant all sorts of leeway. That's how ideas breed, how cultures get built. If any public space needs plenty of light, air, and room to play, it's the marketplace of ideas.
There are times when rules need to be imposed within that marketplace, whether they're international laws against bootleg CDs or the right of someone to sue for libel. But the fact that sometimes we resort to rules shouldn't lead us to think that they are the norm. In fact, leeway is the default and rules are the exception.
....But in the digital world - the global marketplace of ideas made real - we're on the verge of handing amorphous, context-dependent decisions to hard-coded software incapable of applying the snicker test. This is a problem, and not one that more and better programming can fix. That would just add more rules. What we really need is to recognize that the world - online and off - is necessarily imperfect, and that it's important it stay that way.
Right flipping on, Dave.