Digital Rights Management will destroy the web (as we know it)

Alastair Aitken 11 November 2013 0

Spare a thought for Tim Berners-Lee. He invents the web as we know it, sees it snowball into the phenomenon of the age, and then he has to attempt to stop its wholesale takeover by corporate breadheads (whilst trying to keep the techheads who create the tools that power the web happy-ish).

As with land developers who constantly re-apply for planning permission until gaining approval through attrition, it looks like “the man” will succeed in getting Digital Rights Management (DRM) baked into the core of your computer and mobile devices via the W3C specification for Encrypted Media Extensions for HTML 5.1.

One of the general arguments for DRM is to protect intellectual property but the reality for the consumer is to make digital life just a little bit more of a hassle: you want to create a backup of your Blu-Ray disk? Are you sure that’s not breaking the law? Want to stream that backup to another machine on your home network? I don’t think so. Fork out more cash for the product you thought you’d already bought.

Dragon dongle

I first came across an early version of DRM in an early computer, a Dragon 32 (a smashing machine on which I learnt 6809 assembler). The video game Buzzard Bait was sold with a dongle. The game could not be loaded from its cassette without said dongle being plugged into the Dragon’s joystick port. The game was way more expensive than any other game I’d bought and, for whatever reason, the presence of the dongle meant that the program took far longer to load than any other game. The amount of time required to load was well over ten minutes – a time period that, for children, equates to aeons. Couple this with the fact that cassette tape degrades pretty rapidly in the hands of a child and it meant that I only got a few plays of that game before it was un-loadable. I’m still very sore about that even now.


The irony of this vignette is that “Buzzard Bait” had a “storyline” (flying a knight mounted atop an ostrich!) that was a straight rip-off of another video game, Joust). Even for a child, the irony of a software company attempting to protect its product from being ripped-off when the premise of the product was a complete rip-off was not lost.

Not purloined, borrowed

Note that the phrase “rip-off” is not a synonym for “theft” but is actually a synonym for the phrase “inspired by”. Which pretty much covers most of the entertainment industry: “who’s popular right now?” “Miley Cyrus”. “Find us an act that looks and sounds exactly like Miley Cyrus”.

Duffy Lotthouse

The list of artists that are packaged and promoted because they’re a rip-off of established artists is long. Without Amy Winehouse, where would the careers of Duffy, Pixie Lott or even Adele be? Where would Rita Ora be without Rihanna? Paloma Faith – Lady Gaga, Stone Temple Pilots – Nirvana, The Fields of the Nephilim – The Sisters of Mercy. The list is as near endless as it is timeless (and shameless).

Tax dodgers and benefits scroungers

Remember, DRM exists purely to aid an industry that also managed to convince governments to levy a tax on blank cassettes and tapes to support “content developers”. What was not fine about that was that I, as a semi-professional musician, was asked to pay a subsidy to the truly needy, such as Elton John and the cunningly tax-efficient U2.

Same old, same old

I’m not interested in Hollywood films and I only listen to free music created by like-minded artists. Why should I pay extra for my computers, devices and software to support a continuation of the tired old business model of stealing others’ ideas, looks, style and music, and re-badging it as something new?

Alastair Aitken (124 Posts)

As a contract developer and manager I’ve worked in a wide range of enterprises in a variety of countries where I’ve encountered everything from great work, awful work, bizarre work, all the way down to quasi-legal work. If you think that you recognise your own organisation within my articles then you’re undoubtedly wrong, where you work isn’t that unique.

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