Saturday, February 27, 2010

Digital rights management, where are your rights?

Why can't you use your video game any way you want? The issue of DRM and piracy is one as old as the Content Scramble System the DVD Forum used back in 1996, if not earlier. Companies argue pirates will illegally use their products for purposes not intended by the author, or they will distribute the product, thus taking away revenue from the author. While the latter for the most part is legitimate, the FSF comes back saying the authors are restricting rights not covered by current copyright law. All of these arguments have put multiple industries, from music to movies to gaming, in a constant shuffle to keep up with the latest pirates.

When it comes to pirating, I don't. Just in my own personal opinion, it's simply wrong. In fact, that ethical standard is the primary motivation for installing open source software on all of my computers, which I am now a big fan of. Why? Take the perspective of the programmers who make these games, introverted, sometimes even stereotypically nerdy hackers (I might even be one of them) who spend hours at work making your entertainment. (Now obviously this stereotype is offensive and usually wrong, but bare with me for the scenario.) So hours and hours, days and days, typing at a computer, playing with three dimensional graphics, probably not too much pay. After all that work, you walk onto the street, your friend comes up to you, and says he spent zero dollars and only a few hours of his time (maybe a few days if things are going slow) to get the game you just spent a significant part of your life working on. Kind of sucks, doesn't it? Well, it's not dissimilar to copying a book and saying it was yours, or re-branding Windows and saying you made it. Because of this, I am strongly against just copying software and pretending there was no effort or money lost because of it. I probably have a few contenders on this subject, so please comment on your opinion of blatant copyright violation. Despite all of this, companies have begun to take the idea of digital rights management too far.

Apple. Why do they always seem to pop up in every other controversy (with Google and Microsoft covering the other half)? Their big argument makes jail-breaking your iPod Touch illegal. Or Assassin's Creed 2, where you now have to save your game on Ubisoft's servers, no exceptions. And god forbid you disconnect your Internet connection! Examples like these are what I am against. While it is wrong to copy a game and take away money that rightfully belongs to the game developers, forcing the end user to use the product a certain way is almost a violation of the user's rights. The companies have no right to make the user use it this way or that way. Does Dell cry foul if you wipe your hard drive and install Linux? No! Even if they do have a deal with Microsoft, they're not going to tell you what to use your computer for, that's your choice, your rights.

My suggestion for the big tech companies: let the users have their cake and eat it too. Because somebody is always going to find a way to use software for something other than what the author specifically intended. In fact, sometimes it is the variations in use of a product that make it that much more likely to be sold.

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