Law: Digital Rights Management



We live in a time when exponential progress in the field of IT technologies results in traditional legal notions, concerned with copyright protection, being deprived of any sense, whatsoever.

Unfortunately, people who actively strive to slow down the pace of technological progress, in order to be able to continue making millions and millions of dollars out of the thin air are still in position of exercising a strong political and financial influence, which creates preconditions for digital technology enthusiasts to be put on trial as “copyright infringers”.

The article “Court Jails Pirate Bay Founders”, which can be found on the web site of BBC, exposes the mechanics of how it is being done in practice: “Frederik Neij, Gottfrid Svartholm Warg, Carl Lundstrom, and Peter Sunde were found guilty of breaking copyright law and were sentenced to a year in jail. They were also ordered to pay $4.5m (£3m) in damages” (BBC 2009).

The irony lies in the fact that it is technically speaking – it is, namely millions and millions of Pirate Bay visitors, and not this web site founders, who should have been put in jail over their “infringement” activities. In other words, Stockholm Court’s sentencing, in regards to Pirate Bay founders, was nothing but a mockery of a justice, which explains the fact that despite being declared “unlawful,” Pirate Bay continues to remain fully operational.

Digital Rights Management History

This provides us with insight into the fact that the application of so-called Digital Rights Management technology to prevent intellectual property from being unlawfully distributed simply does not correspond to the notion of common sense.

And the reason for this is simple – the very concept of private ownership has been formed in the world of material objects. In the material world, the manufacturing of every single copy of a certain product costs money. Therefore, the practice of selling physical copies of something (material products) makes perfect sense, and it is only crazed Commies, who might have a different point of view on this subject.

For centuries, the actual information could not be thought outside of such information’s physical carrier. This is why, up until comparatively recent times, the practice of selling DVD and CD discs in specialized stores was being perceived by customers as something absolutely legitimate.

However, the invention of the Internet had cardinally changed such a situation, simply because the worldwide web had created a new virtual reality, in which information does not rely on physical carriers as the mean of the distribution.

In virtual reality, the creation of every serial copy of a particular intellectual product comes free of charge. The actual significance of this technological innovation can hardly be underestimated. What it actually means is that the existence of commercial enterprises, specialized in manufacturing and distributing copyrighted digital content, is no longer justifiable.

The validity of this suggestion can be easily illustrated when we analyze how the profit is being generated by the digital music industry, for example.

Apparently, the actual share in such profit, on the part of singers and composers (original owners of intellectual rights) amounts to only 5%-7%, and the rest of the money go to people that have nothing to do with the process of music’s creation – namely, the owners of large transnational companies, such as Sony BMG, Universal, Warner and EMI, who are being ignorant enough to suggest that they have the same right of charging people for downloading music online, as they have within a context of selling music recorded onto DVDs and CDs in stores.

In his article “Thoughts on Music”, Steve Jobs reveals the fact that only the reason why Apple continues to apply online charges for its iTunes, is because it is being required to do so by mentioned above companies: “Since Apple does not own or control any music itself, it must license the rights to distribute music from others, primarily the “big four” music companies: Universal, Sony BMG, Warner and EMI.

These four companies control the distribution of over 70% of the world’s music” (Jobs, 2007). Thus, the current particularities of how people tend to think of the concept of Digital Rights Management appear being heavily affected by commercial establishments, which perceive the very possibility for digital information to be freely transferred from one corner of the globe to another; as such that poses a clear and immediate danger to their financial well-being. One does not have to be overly smart to understand the paradoxical subtleties of such a situation.

It goes without saying that the sheer size of these companies allows them to significantly increase the commercial effectiveness of the process of digital information being placed onto physical carriers and distributed throughout the world. For example, if we manufacture 1000 CDs, the self-cost of each disc would amount to 1$, but when we manufacture 1000000 CDs, the self-cost of each disc will amount to $0.01.

However, what appears as being deprived of any logical sense, whatsoever, is that the same companies demand to be paid money for distributing music via Internet, despite the fact that this does not cost them a penny. Moreover, they apply a great amount of legal effort to prevent individuals from trying to gain free access to downloadable films, music, and software available on the Internet.

In his article “Digital Rights Management in the United States and Europe,” Stefan Bechtold states: “In their weakest form, DRM systems prevent or impede consumers from copying digital content. In their strongest form, they enable complex business models in which consumers have to pay for the individual use of digital content (“pay-per-use”)” (Bechtold 2004, p. 325).

In other words, the very concept of DRM, when applied to the process of downloading digital content of the Internet, derives out of Media magnates’ sense of greed, rather than out of their concern about the protection of one’s copyright on a particular form of intellectual property.

In its turn, this also explains why no unified standards for DRM have been designed – those who insist that one’s intellectual rights must be protected in the virtual realm by making them the subject of DRM, strive for nothing less then slowing down the pace of technological progress.

Nevertheless, as history shows, people who tried to subject technology to the notions of ethics were never able to succeed with such their intention for long, simply because the pace of scientific progress forces self-appointed guardians of morality to play by technological, rather than by moralistic rules.

This is why neither of DRM numerous technologies, such as FairPlay, Adobe Protected Streaming, SecureSharing, SecureCard, DRM-X, Filmkey, PlayReady, etc., can be thought of as being completely reliable.

Digital Rights Management Technology

Nowadays, more and more IT professionals come to realize the conceptual invalidity of DRM. For example, in his article “The Final Days of DRM: Yahoo Music Store Closing, Will Eat Your Purchased Music”, Marshall Kirkpatrick provides us with the insight onto the fact that it is only the matter of time, before utilization of DRM will be banned by most popular web sites: “Digital Rights Management technology is dying, it’s becoming understood that hobbling tunes to enforce scarcity isn’t the best way to monetize the music business online. When the Yahoo!

Music Store closes its doors this fall, the company announced today, past customers dependent on their music “phoning home” to get license approval before playing are out of luck” (Kirkpatrick 2008).

The introduction of the concept of DRM and its eventual decline can be explained by the fact that even as recently as ten years ago, the entertainment industry associated with the distribution of physical carriers of digital content, such as DVDs and CDs, was considered to be utterly lucrative.

However, the rapid progress in the field of IT technologies and the expansion of the worldwide web had significantly reduced the number of profits generated by “third party,” that is – corporate copyright holders. After all, downloading free digital content of the Internet in the privacy of one’s home makes so much more sense than buying the same content recorded onto DVD or CD in the store (which may be located far away) for money.


And, it is needless to mention that people that used to make millions and millions of dollars on the distribution of DVDs and CDs were not entirely happy about such a development. They began to scream bloody murder over what they perceive as “piracy” while appealing to the government to pass new copyright laws and regulations, which they naively expect would prevent Internet users from being able to gain free access to digital content online.

Thus, we can say that DRM represents a technological form of economic protectionism – while acting on behalf of large Media companies, governmental officials strive to regulate operational dynamics in the field of IT technology, without understanding that this simply cannot be done effectively.

The fact that anyone, with even superficial knowledge of software programming, can easily download just about any content of the Internet, without bothering to pay “fees” and without risking the chance of being criminally persecuted serves as the best proof as to the validity of earlier suggestion.

Therefore, we should refer to the introduction of DRM as to what it really is – a pathetic attempt, on the part of agents of mediocrity who pose as “moralists,” to impose their existential backwardness onto the realm of virtual reality.

This is why only utterly naïve individuals may seriously expect this concept to be able to survive for even as little as the next 5-10 years, especially given the fact that the progress in the field of IT technologies relates to the flow of time in geometrical progression. In his lecture “The Law of Accelerating Returns,” Ray Kurzweil says: “When the Internet went from 20,000 to 80,000 nodes over a two year period during the 1980s, this progress remained hidden from the general public.

A decade later, when it went from 20 million to 80 million nodes in the same amount of time, the impact was rather conspicuous” (Kurzweil 2001). Thus, it will not be too daring, on our part, to suggest that in a few years from now, the concept of DRM might become completely abandoned, due to its anti-technological essence.


Baase, Sara “A Gift of Fire: Social, Legal, and Ethical Issues for Computing and the Internet”. NJ. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, 2008.

Bechtold, Stefan “Digital Rights Management in the United States and Europe”. The American Journal of Comparative Law 52. 2 (2004): 323-382.

. 2009. BBC News.

Job, Steve “Thoughts on Music”. 2007. MacRumors.Com.

Kirkpatrick, Marshall “The Final Days of DRM: Yahoo Music Store Closing Will Eat Your Purchased Music”. 2008. ReadWriteWeb.Com.

Kurzweil, Ray “The Law of Accelerating Returns”. 2001. KurzweilAI.Net.

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