Kathryn Cramer on DRM and IP

I recently read these two posts by Kathryn Cramer, one on DRM issues and patents and one on DRM and digital watermarking. She makes a lot of great points in both and comes back to a point I have raised multiple time. A lot of the schemes that are purportedly designed to lock down digital goods and prevent theft have the side-effect of raising the barrier to entry to new publishers (ie, you and me). In other words, media incumbents raise the specter of theft as rationale for opposition to file sharing. By their actions, it often seems like they are less threatened by file sharing to steal their goods than file sharing to distribute goods that aren’t theirs.

In the first post I cite, she has a great quote about how print publishers now get digital rights to works they publish:

Ten years ago, publishers started demanding of authors electronic rights in contract negotiations for no additional compensation. The authors had very little leverage with which to resist. My personal reaction, listening to the entertainment executives complaining in the Anelog Hole hearing about the potential for uncompensated “creators” (by which they mean corporations) is Cry me a river! I don’t know how the details of this were worked out in film and music, but in print publishing, the very digital rights that it is claimed need protection were demanded of authors by over-powerful corporations over the author’s collective objections, in large part without additional compensation. Was that piracy?

In the second, she raises the point I mention above:

My experience in the early-mid 90s teaches me that part of the purpose of setting the production standards of early CD-ROMs absurdly high was to promote corporate authorship over individual authorship with the idea that digital products could be authored like film and TV, not like books, thus empowering the executive level and disempowering the actual creators, or rather reconfiguring relations such that executives become part of the creative “team.”

Now computers are being sold that allow individuals, and small groups of individuals, to produce works to very high production standards on very low budgets. This also threatens the rise of corporate authorship. So watermark-style DRM may do very little to prevent the “piracy” about which the big media corporations are up in arms, it may be the killer app of corporate authorship.

It needs to be said over and over that in the early ’90s, corporations did not own or control most of these digital rights they now claim the right to defend. In large part, these rights were taken, without additional compensation, from the artistic creators. (I know who the real pirates are!)

Both posts are great. Check them out.

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Dave Slusher is a blogger, podcaster, computer programmer, author, science fiction fan and father. Member of the Podcast Hall of Fame class of 2022.