Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

If Not DRM, What Then? (Part III)

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If Not DRM, What Then? (Part III)

Just a last few words and thoughts on DRM.

DRM Can Work

One hallmark of the anti-DRM argument is that DRM doesn't and cannot work. Doctorow lays out the reasons in the first part of his talk to the Microsoft Research Group in 2004, the section unambiguously titled, "DRM systems don't work." While it's true they don't currently operate in a way that cannot be defeated, this doesn't mean they can't work. The arguments in this section are compelling, but I would argue that with the right technology combined with robust laws, it can be done.

How am I so sure? Because of money. Take counterfeiting. The arguments about DRM can easily be applied to counterfeiting. The currency you are trying to prevent from being copied is in circulation – everyone has access to it, anyone can disassemble it and discover a way to copy it. And they do. But have we given up on currency? Have we thrown in the towel and said, oh well, people will counterfeit, so I guess we better just let 'em. Of course not. Because it's about money. It's a war, yes, an escalation, but we fight the fight because, in case you haven't noticed, our society puts a lot of importance into money.

Now take it online. The digital age has changed the financial industry to a much greater degree than the intellectual property sector. Trillions of dollars change hands electronically each year, and crooks try to exploit those transactions daily. Do we simply throw up our hands and say, well, that's just going to happen. Let the criminals have their dough, nothing we can do. Of course not. Because it's about money.

If intellectual property was money, you'd better believe it would be protected, and that protection would evolve constantly to meet new threats. The truth of the matter is not that you can't protect it – the truth is that it's not considered important enough to protect.

Anytime someone tells you something can't be done, try this counter-argument: "but money!"

That's completely different than "we can't." That's "we won't," and don't let anyone ever tell you otherwise.


Congratulations: You've Been Pirated

One interesting trend I've seen is for writers to express excitement, or for people to congratulate writers, when they discover their work has been pirated, when it's been found available for free on some rogue site on the internet. This glee arises because it signifies a demand for one's work. Some even consider pirating to have a levelling effect: if you are big enough to be pirated, it's okay if you are pirated. Stephen King's work is readily available for download; Canadian Nobody Novelist's is not. However, if work is released into the wild without DRM, it's more likely to be made available illegally, because the effort to required to offer it is reduced when the decryption step is eliminated.

Some would tell you that the increased availability of your work will make you more popular, and lead to an increase in legitimate acquisitions. These claims are theoretical, and dubious. If anyone has studies to support this claim, I'd like to see them. And it can only be true if your work already has some kind of undiscovered mass appeal.

My other caution is this: the barometer does not control the weather. While finding your work pirated on the internet may (or may not) indicate that demand for your work is increasing, pirating does not augment your success. It simply means that anyone who wants your book and is unwilling to pay for it now has an avenue to acquire it for free. You'll never be compensated or acknowledged for it. Congratulations.


Death Star-class DRM

My last thought on the matter regards the Death Star plans. Now that was some serious DRM. When Princess Leia's Rebel Blockade Runner was captured by Darth Vader's Star Destroyer at the beginning of "Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope," it was reported that, "the Death Star plans [which had been intercepted during a transmission] are not in the main computer." They of course had been transferred – not copied – into the R2-D2's memory banks. If it had been possible to copy instead of move the plans, the Empire would've found them in the main computer, and never thought to pursue the 'droids. The plans were protected by some kind of DRM that ensured only a single copy of the plans could exist.

That's what we need. Death Star-class DRM.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

Brian Panhuyzen

Brian Panhuyzen is the author of the short-story collection The Death of The Moon (Cormorant, 1999) and a novel, The Sky Manifest (ECW, 2013).

Go to Brian Panhuyzen’s Author Page