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From Protecting property rights in a digital world by Russell McOrmond

We have been having problems with the language used in this debate. One common acronym that has been used is DRM which can stand for "Digital Rights Management" or "Digital Restrictions Management", depending on whether you believe what is being regulated by this technology relate to things which are rights.

The problem is that the term DRM is being used to describe a wide variety of things which have little in common.

The first type is highly controversial as it "Robs Peter to Pay Paul" in that it revokes the property rights of the owners of hardware, and/or ties the ability to access digital content to specific brands of players. Both of these aspects should be understood as illegal, one as a circumvention of tangible property rights and the second as a violation of anti-trust/competition law.

The second type is not controversial, and is something critically important to protect the owner of a computer from third party attackers. Those who are lobbying for the first type deliberately confuse people into thinking that they are talking about the second even though one circumvents the rights of the device owner while the other protects it.

The third type is as controversial as the first, and would disallow the owners of this hardware to install their own software, or disable them from exercising rights granted to them under copyright law (Fair Use in the USA, Fair Dealings in Canada, etc) or other laws. It would make modern software marketplaces such as Free/Libre and Open Source (FLOSS) effectively illegal, as any device that can receive digital signals or record would not be allowed to run software which the owner (or their agent) could modify.

When people explain cryptography they often call them digital locks. The important question to always ask is: is the owner the person who has all the keys such that they can decide who to let in and who to keep out, or does someone else have the keys and will use them to decide when and under what conditions the owner will be allowed in. In the above 3 scenarios only the second protects the rights of the owner, while the other two directly attack the rights of the owner.

If you want to visually understand this question of who keeps the keys to the digital locks, and who is being locked out by these keys, please watch LAFKON's video about "Trusted Computing".


© Russell McOrmond. This article is licensed by Russell McOrmond under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license, confirmed by Denver Gingerich. The original article can be found on Russell's web site.

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