Don’t get me wrong. I make my living by creating and selling intellectual property, and I’m sometimes a victim of unauthorized copying. A few years ago one of my publishers started selling my books on CD-ROM. Although each disc is licensed only for personal use, at least once a month I discover that someone in Eastern Europe or Russia has taken that whole disc and put it on the Internet. Usually it’s a university or a library that is engaging in such wholesale piracy.But I would rather live with the piracy than have a computer that runs only the software that has been preapproved and digitally signed. I don’t want to have my electronic movements constantly monitored and reported to some Big Brother database on the off-chance that I might be violating somebody’s copyright.
This isn’t the first time publishers have tried to impose unreasonable restrictions on the public. On the inside cover of one of my wife’s childhood books, published in England, this ominous warning appears: “This book shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, re-sold, hired out or otherwise circulated without the publisher’s prior consent.” Books don’t have such restrictions anymore-if they did, we would laugh at them. A hundred years ago, U.S. publishers put similar restrictions in our books; they were deemed by our courts to be unenforceable violations of “fair use.” But digital rights management tools will enable publishers to turn back the clock and write the same kinds of restrictions directly into their software. Digital rights management is already at work. Incompatible coding means that DVDs sold in the United States won’t play on European DVD players. This is to prevent Europeans from buying cheap DVDs in the United States.
Perhaps even more disturbing, the new protection technologies would necessarily have to block a computer from running Linux or any other open-source operating systems. Otherwise, anyone bent on unauthorized copying could create a version of Linux that didn’t incorporate the copyright protection system.
The industry’s antipiracy arguments are a smoke screen. Digital rights management is about strengthening monopolies, increasing revenues, and restricting our freedoms. We must not be beguiled as Faust was.