And you’re telling me this, because?

I may just have mildly annoyed Neil Gaiman on Twitter. He was announcing a new iPhone app based on his Sandman comics. I’m sure it’ll be a great success, but much as I admire Mr. Gaiman’s work, I’m not going to buy the app. First, I don’t have an iPad or an iPhone, and I never will. Second, because these things come with strings attached. Chains, actually.

One of my beliefs is that one of the great forces for evil these days is corporate greed. I’m not talking about companies’ wishes to be compensated for their work or goods – not at all. Everybody has mouths to feed, and to get one’s just deserts for an honest day’s work is one of the pre-requisites for freedom. What I’m talking about is the predatory, never-sated kind of greed that drives companies to send letters tac-nuke style to as many people as possible, threatening to sue them into oblivion unless they pay up, for goods that they cannot prove they haven’t downloaded. It’s the kind of greed that drives companies to send their customers into shops to check out the prices of goods, then to undercut those shops. The kind of greed that organises police-style illegal raids on people’s private homes. The kind of greed that openly warns politicians that they have been bought, and that they had better deliver. The kind of greed that snoops on your private business, just in case something in there might belong to them. The kind of greed that sends people into folk clubs, just in case someone there sings a song owned by one of their Rights Holders, who is normally not the person who wrote the song. The kind of greed that’s quite happy to carpet-bomb great big swathes of the Internet just because the address is shared by one of the servers of the Pirate Bay. The kind of greed that keeps life-saving medicine to itself because it thinks it can make more money that way.

In the scheme of things, merely lying to your customers is just a small offence compared to some of the other things companies do.

Digital Restrictions, oh sorry, Rights Management is one of those lies. It’s being sold to the creative people as a solution to piracy. That’s a lie with layers. The first layer of lie is that DRM actually prevents people from copying their works. I’d be surprised if anyone actually still believes that. The second layer of lie is that piracy is actually a problem. Find out which movies have been pirated most, and you’ll find that those movies have earned their makers billions. The other thing that deeply disturbs me about DRM is how intrusive it is. Forget about the minutes-long unskippable guilt trips. If I have to prove who I am and whether I’ve paid enough money every time I turn on my PC, every time I play a game, watch a movie, and if I were fool enough to buy into it, every time I open a book, then that bothers me. Especially since the mechanisms used are far from perfect. I’ve personally wasted about half a day trying to convince Windows that I wasn’t a filthy pirate, on the Internet, and on the phone trying to get the magic number that would bring my wife’s computer back to life. I’m using an OS for games that Microsoft no longer wants me to use. In the back of my head is always the notion that at some point, if the box breaks, I may not be able to get it going again, because Microsoft will no longer allow me to prove I have a right to run it. Unless I pony up for Windows 7, I won’t be able to play the characters anymore that have so far been the inspiration for thousands of words of my fanfic.

I also really do not like the idea that if I buy stuff from someone once, I will be forced to buy all my subsequent stuff from them. If my Kindle were to die, I could only replace it with another Kindle, unless I want to lose my whole book collection. Yes, I know there are PC Kindle readers. But if I were to take a fancy to a Nook instead of a Kindle, then I would still be screwed. Not because a Nook couldn’t display a .mobi file if it wanted to, but because it’s not allowed to. I hate so-called loyalty cards, but I can simply avoid having them, and they don’t make it more difficult for me to walk into Sainsbury’s rather than Tesco’s. This is different. If I have a big book collection at Amazon, then it’ll be bloody difficult to add a book from another source. It says something about how effective this strategy is that I couldn’t actually mention another source off the top of my head.

I have paper books written by my family. Old memories. People long gone. Books can outlive you. Whether I pick up that book again now or in twenty years’ time is none of anyone’s business, least of all the middle man who once sold it to someone who gave it to me. I have texts on my computers that I’ll probably want to look at again in future years. What if I had to ask permission from companies long since gone bankrupt? It’s bad enough that the software you were going to view it with probably won’t run anymore ten years in the future. DRM makes this problem even worse by deliberately making my book not work at its whim.

 

I’m not much of a writer. I produce derivative works, on an obscure website, with dubitable skill, mainly as a diversion from the realities I live in. And one of those realities is that we are being coerced, forced, to consume more and more from bigger and bigger companies, whose power has long since passed that of even national governments. Like flies by a flesh-eating plant, we’re drawn in by a sweet smell, then trapped and digested. The books are the smell, DRM is the acid.

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