BT et C

Monday, August 01, 2005


*sigh ... looks like my readership has declined by about 100%... well, I have some stuff to say anyway.

Recent news that Apple is hitching their newest wagon to the DRM star foments the usual dumb arguments about how proper and acceptable it is for developers of software/content to try to recoup their investment. So, at the risk of repeating things that have been said before, let's dig in with a fun analogical leap:

He's already licking his ass!

The problem with DRM is not that it's inherently immoral to pursue profits. The problem with DRM is that it's 0% effective at dealing with piracy. The pirate is deliberately copying, maybe reselling, large and sometimes vast amounts of copyrighted material. Heshe is already breaking the law -- the one against breaking copyright.

For fun, I will grant the defenders of DRM something that is ludicrous as hell: that digital goods are as valuable as diamonds. It is illegal to steal diamonds. But people do it anyway! There are several possible responses to this situation:
-Make the punishment for stealing diamonds harsher, until it is no longer worth the risk
-Lock up your diamonds tighter, thereby diminishing their value-in-use, which is to be shown off, perhaps on a necklace, etc.

The first approach maximizes the downside risk of stealing, the second one maximizes the effort required. But both act on the thief-to-be's motivational equation:
Profit (P) - Effort (E) > Risk (R)
When this evaluates to "true", a lawbreaker-type person might steal diamonds.

DRM represents an out-of-the-box (and stupid) third way:
1. Attach an apparatus to every diamond, so that it can be located at all times.
2. Make it illegal to remove this apparatus.

You've solved (salved?) the problem by geolocating every good, honest person who wears or likes diamonds. And by giving thieves a second, and fairly trivial, law to break.

The problem with DRM is that it abridges people's freedom to control their computers, and provides precisely nothing in exchange.

That equation thing was fun ... here's code for the DRM world:
if ($lawbreaker) {
  $upside = $profit - $effort;
  if ($upside > $risk) {
    /*here's the addition that DRM proposes, and that proponents claim is worth the sacrifice of above-mentioned freedom*/
    if (!$lawbreaker) {
      return "curses! ".foiled_by(DRM);


  • I would say that DRM isn't necessarily a new 3rd method. it's "lock up your software tighter." the negative effect is just indeed diminishing the value-in-use of software. when I'm picking an operating system, or a media player package, I factor in all of these aspects of the product before choosing.

    for example, I place about 0 value on Windows Media Player and due to their approach on DRM. incorporates DRM into music files I paid for and downloaded, then Windows Media gave me all kinds of errors trying to play those files when I wasn't on a net connection. WTF? has received no more of my money, and Windows Media Player is completely ignored.

    it's like you said, for the non-lawbreaking types (me), it only lessens value. the law-breakers will still be getting around it.

    we're on the same page here. but somewhat you have the same stance on gun-control laws?

    By Blogger luke, at 8:00 AM  

  • This occurred to me partway through the argument, i.e. that DRM is, like a padlock, just an additional layer of security. However, it does not succeed in enhancing the value of E(ffort) in my equation. The reason (I come back to this point a lot) is the negligible marginal cost of digital stuff. i.e. once you download the crack for a DRM system, you use it as many times as you see fit, and the effort spent acquiring it "spreads out" over all those uses.

    As for gun control, well that's a life-or-death matter, and shouldn't be lightly equated to the downloading of Coldplay's latest and greatest.

    Let's see .. hm ... almost every discussion of gun control seems shot-through with emotive arguments. My opinion is not real meaty, but I'll scatter around some rational things I've heard said, and with which I guess I agree.

    -It's within the state's rights to try to control gun violence, insofar as it can do so without abridging people's rights beyond their consent.

    -Re: the constitutional argument, the call is explicitly for a "well-regulated militia" ... not a free-for-all.

    -Re: the constitutional argument again, I believe the purpose of the 2nd amendment is to prevent a tyrrany from developing. i.e. if the citizenry are/can be armed, it is more difficult to impose a fascist (etc.) regime on them. This function of the second amendment is undermined by the unfathomable military superiority of the US govt.

    That is to say, buy all the guns you want but if we elect a dictator heshe could easily crush any uprising with e.g. nuclear weapons, and so on.

    I guess I'm okay with guns being at least as hard to obtain/license as, for example, cars.

    It's also possible that the UK got it right; people basically aren't allowed to carry guns at all, and they have a lot less gun crime than the US.

    Still undecided though.

    By Blogger Matt Crouch, at 10:31 AM  

  • although I'd like to dip into another analogy comparing grokster to gun manufacturers, I'll avoid it in light of the seriousness of consequences when guns are involved.

    your first point is very muddled, but I'll try to touch on it briefly...

    we disagree that the state has any rights that individuals do not. so my natural response is to say the state does NOT have a right to try to control gun violence, any more than you have a right to come into my house and steal my property - my gun - no matter what your reasoning is (ie, that I was going to shoot your monitor). gun ownership is the same as property ownership and, as such, any coercive force applied to it constitutes an abridgement of rights.

    on the text of the constitution, I had to read it quite a few times before I finally came to the same general conclusions that you did.

    I lament the nearly-supernatural power that our military employs, and especially because it does undermine the 2nd ammendment. it could be responsible for our continuing slide into fascist-type government in certain areas.

    but in all unclear areas, I give precedence to the individual above the collective.

    and the grokster analogy because I can't resist...

    even though there are (but should not be) laws against copyrighting, you should not outlaw the creation of products that CAN violate those laws. not because a person might disagree with the justness of those particular laws, but because those products can be used for other purposes.

    so even though there are (and should be) laws against violent crime, you should not outlaw guns than can violate those laws, because guns can be used for other purposes - like preventing violent crime from being done on oneself!

    but in the end, I can live with the license level you suggest. however, I would NOT accept a system like the brits.

    By Blogger luke, at 12:27 PM  

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