Standardizing DRM on the Web

I talked briefly with Evan Reyes about my thoughts on DRM (digitial rights management) during today’s podcast. At the moment the W3C, the world wide web consortium which makes decisions about what standards the web adopts and thus effectively determines the web experience of the future, is currently coming to a major decision. It’s very easy to have your eyes glaze over when we talk about things like DRM, but it is an incredibly important discussion that has far reaching consequences over the openness of the web. This article does an excellent job of discussing the topic and I strongly recommend sticking with it.

I'll add that it adding a standard like EME to the underlying framework of the web is following the logic that everyone is guilty of stealing content always, and thus justifies giving everyone a worse user experience. Treating everyone as a criminal is the opposite of the founding principles of freedom and that is explicitly the function of things like DRM and the DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act. 

I am a strong proponent of making the user experience so delightful that people are happy to pay for the experience. This is a fundamental tenant of capitalism. Circumventing people's ability to choose the best user experience is just publishers excusing their awful treatment of their customers and hiding behind the court system.

Two industries are noted for having pushed DRM to the forefront, the music industry and the gaming industry. In both cases, DRM was found to be wildly unsuccessful at preventing piracy, while consistently providing the type of user experience that would convince someone it would be better experience to deal with the necessary hoops to get the content for free. 

For both industries, what actually saved the industries were well developed online stores which focused on the user experience rather than preventing users from playing the content. In the case of music the solution was streaming services such as Spotify and Apple Music, and for games the solution was Steam. If the music and game publishers had spent the time and money they dropped on DRM and wielding the legal weapon of the DMCA on making the user experience better for their customers, they would be the ones owning these platforms and thus vastly more profitable. These services do have their own form of encryption to prevent piracy, but the focus was on ensuring users would not be locked out of enjoying the content they paid for in the ways they wished to use the content.

No one is arguing against encryption, the argument is about if it is ok to create software which is a felony to research. Putting software in a legal black box makes everyone less secure and promotes industries not prioritizing the user experience, in other words, its a bag of hurt.