DRM: The Dark Future of E-Books?

December 12, 2007 at 2:32 PM

Stories like 1984 and Fahrenheit 451 have always resonated strongly with me. I'm drawn to stories about intelligent and subversive characters overcoming oppression. I'm no conspiracy theorist, yet I don't believe that these books were purely imaginative fiction. The history of the real world — across all periods of time and all people groups — is rife with oppression. These books serve to warn of oppression — oppression either foreseen or directly witnessed by their respective authors.

Consider the following, then: The Future of Reading (A Play in Six Acts).

Digital Rights Management is a scary topic when it comes to entertainment: consumers' Fair Use rights regarding movies, music, games, et cetera is being eroded by a tide of DRM, backed by the DMCA undercurrent.

It's an even scarier prospect when applied to books. When the tools of learning are completely digital, our knowledge base is controlled by those who control the software. As I said before, I'm not a conspiracy theorist — I don't think there are nefarious Software Engineers conspiring with nefarious Businessmen and Politicians to restrict the distribution of knowledge, redact books to favor their political persuasions, or modify history.

That said, abuse necessarily springs from the potential to abuse. That's nearly tautological, I know — but it's important enough to emphasize! In addition to restricting rights guaranteed to consumers and learners DRM creates an unnecessary potential for abuse of Orwellian nature and proportions.

This is part of why I like Open Source Software so much. A standardized, open E-Book format would allay these fears. Software whose source code can be modified, audited, and redistributed by anyone is fundamentally liberating, and diametrically opposed to oppression. It's a slap in the face to the Perpetual Copyright holy grail of today's content providers.

Give people good enough devices and quality content, and you won't need DRM as part of your business model. And that's a good thing — DRM is a potential wolf in sheep's clothing, ready to devour much more than the revenue companies are afraid of losing to copyright infringement.