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Bring On the PRM Wars

Felten’s put together a fine series on evolving defenses of DRM and related anti-circumvention laws. He’s right that the entertainment industry has begun more frequently offering alternative arguments to defend the DMCA+DRM, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say that they are “replacing” the DRM as speed bump to “Internet piracy” myth.  Yet if this were the case, I would welcome the switch. Indeed, if the DMCA’s existence hinged on these issues, I bet it would be wholly reformed.

Hollywood certainly can’t sell the public on these arguments, as Felten also suggests. They can’t convince consumers that restricting compatible devices is a good thing — heck, the record labels won’t even defend the iPod-iTunes tie, though they reluctantly go along with it.  And if the major entertainment companies’ best argument for price discrimination is that they’ll get to take away your ability to freely burn CD copies of purchased music, then they’ll be doing my job for me. Consumers don’t want fair use taken away so that it can be sold back to them bit by bit.

This isn’t to say no one can make a coherent argument defending these practices.  Rather, I think consumers are generally — and rightly — suspicious of them. Policymakers and judges might be similarly wary — remember, even as many legislators ignored the DMCA’s broad harms, the issue of music player incompatibility got a hearing relatively soon after its effects began to be felt. But, at present, the fear of “Internet piracy” blinds many of them to DMCA+DRM’s actual impact.

So I say: bring on the Property Rights Management wars and a fair evaluation of the DMCA+DRM’s impact.  Of course, because they don’t want such an honest look at the DMCA, the RIAA and MPAA will continue to focus on the DRM-as-speed-bump myth, and too many policymakers will continue to buy it.  But, hopefully, with enough convincing, the latter will one day change their tune.