The Center for Democracy and Technology just released a new copyright policy paper. Derek Slater notes, astutely, that it tries at all costs to take the middle ground. It’s interesting to see what CDT sees as the middle ground.
Ernest Miller gives the paper a harsh review. I think Ernie is too harsh in some areas.
Rather than reviewing the whole paper, I’ll look here at the section on DRM. Here CDT’s strategy is essentially to wish that we lived on a planet where DRM could be consumer-friendly while preventing infringement. They’re smart enough not to claim that we live on such a planet now, only that people hope that we will soon:
While DRM systems can be very restrictive, much work is underway to create content protections that allow expansive consumer uses, while still protecting against widespread distribution.
(They footnote this by referring to FairPlay, TivoToGo, and AACS-LA, which all fall well short of their goal.) CDT asserts that if DRM systems that made everyone happy did exist, it would be good to use them. Fair enough. But what should we do in the actual world, where DRM that everyone loves is about as likely as teleportation or perpetual motion?
This means producers must be free to experiment with various models of digital distribution, using different content protection technologies and offering different sets of permissions and limitations. [Government DRM mandates are bad.]
Consumers, meanwhile, must have real options for purchasing different bundles of rights at different price points.
Producers should be free to experiment. Consumers should be free to buy. Gee, thanks.
Actually, this would be fine if CDT really meant that producers were free to experiment with DRM systems. Nowadays, everybody is a producer. If you take photographs, you’re a producer of copyrighted images. If you take home movies, you’re a producer of copyrighted video. If you write, you’re a producer of copyrighted text. We’re all producers. A world where we could all experiment would be good.
What they really mean, of course, is that some producers are more equal than others. Those who are expected to sell a few works to many people – or, given the way policy really gets made, those who have done so in the recent past – are called “producers”, while those who produce the vast majority of new copyrighted works are somehow called “consumers”. (And don’t say that big media produces the only works of value. Quick: Which still images do you value most in the world? I’ll bet they’re photos, and that they weren’t taken by a big media company.)
Here’s the bottom line: In the real world, DRM policy involves tradeoffs, and requires choices. Wishing for a magical DRM technology that will please everyone is not a strategy.