Thursday, January 28, 2010

iPad and DRM

iPad and DRM

The first look at the iPad yesterday reminded me of those giant remote controls that are sold half-seriously as a you won't lose this gag. Looks like an iPhone that's waaay too big for your pocket.

I've never really used a tablet, though I've got one friend who swears by them. All a matter of user need, I guess. (I can't see myself writing a liveblog on a touchscreen virtual keyboard; remember, I'm the guy who spent months hunting down an ancient early `80s IBM keyboard because I love the hard clack of the keys.)

But there's a bigger issue underlying the iPad rollout that has a ripple effect through the whole computing world.

The iPad is locked down with DRM - that's Digital Rights Management for the uninitiated - and it means there's no free ride ever. DRM is essentially the evil opposite of open source. More specifically,
Digital rights management (DRM) is a generic term for access control technologies that can be used by hardware manufacturers, publishers, copyright holders and individuals to try to impose limitations on the usage of digital content and devices. It is also, sometimes, disparagingly described as Digital Restrictions Management. The term is used to describe any technology which inhibits uses (legitimate or otherwise) of digital content that were not desired or foreseen by the content provider.

A red flag for us Linux geeks.

There were protests at the rollout, and here's a sample of the rhetoric:
DRM will give Apple and their corporate partners the power to disable features, block competing products (especially free software) censor news, and even delete books, videos, or news stories from users' computers without notice-- using the device's "always on" network connection.

By making a computer where every application is under total, centralized control, Apple is endangering freedom to increase profits. Apple can say they will not abuse this power, but their record of App Store rejections and removals gives us no reason to trust them. The iPad's unprecedented use of DRM to control all capabilities of a general purpose computer is a dangerous step backward for computing and for media distribution.

It's an ongoing question in three of my favorite things, computing, music, and journalism. We've invented Big Smart Box where all the information in the world ever is instantly available, but we haven't figured out a way to get the band paid.

In other critiques, Davey Winder finds 15 things wrong with it, and of course I'm a sucker for numbered lists. And Steven Vaughn-Nichols says Anything the iPad can do, Linux can do better.

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