Digital Rights Rant

My computer is now my tv screen, movie screen, stereo and newspaper. Even better, my iPad is all that and my library. And, it goes with me almost anywhere. Both televisions are connected to the Internet and can display my photos at Flickr and home movies at Vimeo along with “netcast” programming. One thing holds me back from getting even more involved in digital media – digital rights management. This is the music, movie and publishing industry’s way of “protecting” their copyrights by adding some form or another of a programmed lock on the products they want me to buy.

There are a lot of problems with digital rights management (DRM) that aren’t going to be fixed anytime soon. For example, a couple of years ago I bought several albums through Yahoo’s music service. They used Microsoft’s DRM system which worked very nicely on Windows computers and the portable players they supported. I moved to a Mac and all that music became dead space on my hard drive. If I buy a book from iBooks, I can only read it on the iThings. And what about changing technology? Does that leave me with even more dead disk space? My answer is to “rip” my analog music (CD, tape and even vinyl) to a standard MP3 format that will play on all players and computers. There’s no limits to how many computers I can copy them to. No, I don’t plan to offer all my friends copies of my music, but I do tend to buy new computers and portable players every so often and I would very much like to enjoy that music on all these things. I don’t like a system that limits the number of copies I can make.

The same goes for movies – with the additional issue of format wars (like the old Betamax/VHS days). I’ll spend my money on a nice size flat-panel tv (I’m still a big screen movie fan) before I get too carried away with all the different players necessary for movies. Netflix is delightful because I have a huge library of programming available with just a couple clicks. I also love the digital recorder included in my cable service – not to record and pirate programs but to watch them on my schedule.

And books? In my family we have always shared books. Why can’t we do the same with our digital books?

Fortunately there are some people who are listening and offering options we can live with. These are the folks who deserve our attention and support. A growing number of writers and musicians are finding they can write, produce and publish on their own. Not only is their work more affordable, they don’t have digital locks trying to limit your use. And surprisingly, analysis of their sales stats show many are getting exposure – and sales – from their pirated works.

I am no best-selling author and probably never will be, but everything I publish will include a license to share (just please give me credit when you do) and no programmed restrictions on the digital files. It doesn’t stop the bad guys and only hurts the good guys. That I don’t want to do.

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