Software, music, video, books and now ‘physibles’ (3D printable objects). Some were always digital, while others are transforming and becoming bits. Most fall under copyright at some point. At the same time, phones, audio players, TVs, cameras and a plethora of other devices are joining the personal computer and becoming computing devices. The Internet is, of course, a network of computing devices and is now an important part of most people’s lives, whether directly or transparently.
Computing devices copy. When viewing a webpage—to take one example, a computer makes a copy of all the files referenced. Companies making or distributing software, music, video and books don’t like copies they can’t control because in their view such copying is always stealing. They’d like to get more control over copies, or, more often than not, prevent copying completely. Enter DRM, or ‘Digital Rights Management’. To get more control on copying, companies are trying to exert more control on computing devices and the Internet and herein lies the problem. If so many things are now computers, and if computers copy, and if some industries want to prevent/control copying then it means those industries want to gain access to a lot of useful things in our lives. Additionally, when techniques of that kind are proposed for the Internet, they end up converging with surveillance measures we associate with repressive governments.
Throw in the fact that DRM is largely ineffective. It does prevent some people from copying but there is always someone who can beat any DRM which means in effect it makes it harder for the average user to use/access copyrighted material but rarely impossible for someone even vaguely motivated to access the same material by circumventing DRM. Which means users relinquishing control of their devices and freedom on the net for a broken copyright protection system.
“Regardless of whether you think these are real problems or hysterical fears, they are, nevertheless, the political currency of lobbies and interest groups far more influential than Hollywood and big content. Every one of them will arrive at the same place: ‘Can't you just make us a general-purpose computer that runs all the programs, except the ones that scare and anger us? Can't you just make us an Internet that transmits any message over any protocol between any two points, unless it upsets us?’”
“We haven't lost yet, but we have to win the copyright war first if we want to keep the Internet and the PC free and open. Freedom in the future will require us to have the capacity to monitor our devices and set meaningful policies for them; to examine and terminate the software processes that runs on them; and to maintain them as honest servants to our will, not as traitors and spies working for criminals, thugs, and control freaks.”