Reader – Alright, Writer, we’ve been dancing around this for too long. Let’s talk about digital locks.
Writer – Do we have to?
Reader – Are you afraid to?
Writer – No, not afraid, just… well, weary. But have at! – how tough can you be? You’re me, after all.
Reader – Why do you want to lock your writing away from consumers?
Writer – Oh, that’s easy. I hate consumers. People who read my writing really bug me. Where do they get off, engaging with my published thought? As if a writer is so egotistical he actually wants people to read his work.
Reader – Wow. I did not see that coming.
Writer – Dude, don’t be dense. The very last thing I want to do is stop people from reading my work. On the other hand, this is not a hobby. I write for a living. When my kids go to university to learn about things like copyright law and social history from very well paid and tenured faculty, it will be a writer’s hard-earned wages paying the tuition.
Reader – So, if you want as many people as possible to read your work, why lock it away?
Writer – Who’s locking my work away?
Reader – DRM – that’s who. Creative industries put DRM on their content to limit what the consumer can do with it. Sure, they say it’s to try and control piracy, but the unintended consequence of that is that it can also stop fair dealing. That’s why people like Michael Geist call DRM “digital locks.” DRM locks content so the consumer can’t use it the way she wants to.
Writer – Alright, I’m no fancy Ottawa law professor, so let’s dumb this down a notch. Give me an example of a digital lock on content.
Reader – Well, this Kobo e-reader you and I have been enjoying for the last couple of weeks. The content may be in ePub format, but it does have DRM on it.
Writer – Didn’t we talk about this already? Kobo already provides me with multiple digital copies, so back-ups are not a worry for me. Satire, quoting, whatever, it’s all available to me. Maybe I can’t copy and paste, but I don’t know where in fair dealing I should expect the right to use a specific digital tool to interact with content.
Reader – I know, I know, but doesn’t it bother you that someone else put a lock on it, and you can’t break it?
Writer – I don’t know, does it bother you that people lock their houses, or their cars?
Reader – But that’s their property – with DRM, someone is locking your property, and you don’t necessarily get the keys to the lock.
Writer – Wait, this is where I get a bit confused. Just what have I bought when I buy a book from Kobo. Let’s say I buy The Bishop’s Man. What do I own?
Reader – You own The Bishop’s Man.
Writer – Except copyright law says Linden McIntyre owns The Bishop’s Man. How can we both own the same thing? Can two people who don’t know each other and have no legal contract between them jointly own the same piece of private property?
Reader – Look, you can’t use physical property analogies to discuss intellectual property or the digital world. These things are so different they simply can’t be compared.
Writer – Okay, let’s not talk about property, physical or digital. Let’s talk about the concept of ownership. Do we believe in that?
Reader – Absolutely… and that’s my point. If you buy a book, don’t you own it? Why shouldn’t you be able to take off any lock that’s on it when you buy it?
Writer – Well, I guess that’s my question. When I buy The Bishop’s Man, what have I bought? And remember, Linden McIntyre is not selling me the copyright ownership to his book. So… what have I bought?
Reader – I’m stumped.
Writer – A copy, dude. When I buy The Bishop’s Man, I am not buying the text to do with whatever I want. I am buying a copy, and a copy by its nature is less than the text. I mean, when you buy a book do you think you can suddenly go to Hollywood and sell the movie rights to that book?
Reader – Don’t be ridiculous.
Writer – Well, is it any more ridiculous to think you can buy a copy of anything – a book, a song, an album, a movie – and then act like you have total intellectual property ownership over the original? Sharing, recopying, uploading, downloading – these rights belong to the IP owner, not the copy owner. There’s a reason copies are generally cheap. I mean, if Lady Gaga was going to sell you the copyright to one of her songs, do you think she’d charge you 99 cents for it?
Reader – Alright, point taken. Still, these locks concern a lot of people. I mean C-32 gives consumers a bunch of new exceptions to strict copyright, but if the copyright owner locks her content, those new rights don’t apply.
Writer – Again… example please. I can’t expect tenure and a job for life in Internet law for quite some time. Spell it out.
Reader – Okay, C-32 says you can make a back-up copy for personal use, but what if some movie company locks their DVDs so you can’t copy them? Suddenly, a right you have under law is not available to you.
Writer – Wow, I guess if I really wanted to always exercise my right to a back-up copy I would definitely NOT be buying movies from that company.
Reader – Okay, buyer beware. But what if every DVD came with copy protection?
Writer – In that case, I would definitely start a DVD company that offered DVDs you could copy. Because when you recognize a hole in the market, you should fill that sucker. I would negotiate professional distribution deals with studios that allowed back-up copies and I would make a killing. And it would all be legal. You know, having laws protecting digital locks doesn’t mean we have to buy OR sell content that is locked.
Reader – But, I thought you liked DRM?
Writer – Nope, I think DRM is an unfortunate necessity of a terrible economic environment for professional creators and their business partners. What I like is respect for intellectual property and creation.
Reader – You know that DRM doesn’t actually stop piracy? Any experienced tech-head can break a digital lock in less than a day.
Writer – I am aware of that. You know that anyone with a crowbar can break a padlock in under ten minutes?
Reader – What’s your point?
Writer – Locks don’t have to be unbreakable; they just have to exist. Locks work in concert with the law to say “From this point on, no trespassing.” For the most part, that message will stop folks from trespassing, but the determined will always get through. And that’s why we have laws against breaking locks. You know… the “breaking” part of “breaking and entering?”