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Peter Cochrane's Blog: Why DRM is dead

You can't control creativity

Compiled in a coffee shop in Taunton UK and dispatched to silicon.com later the same day via a free wi-fi service provided by my hotel

When I buy clothes I expect to use them as I wish. I might wear them or I might want to give them away or lend them to someone else. Along with everything else I purchase, I see them as mine, to do with what I want when I want, within the limits of the law and reasonable social behaviours.

This is also the case with cars, tools and computers… in fact everything I own. What I don't expect is to pay a royalty to the designer and manufacturer for their intellectual and other skills in the production and delivery of the product, time after time after time.

Postcards from the bleeding edge

Read more missives by Peter Cochrane, as he blogs from around the world.

I have to say the same applies to the services and advice I purchase. They are all one-shot deals: I purchase, I use - end of story. If you borrow my screwdriver, torch, coat or computer, I have it covered - there is nothing more to pay, no extra fees per use, no royalties, no nothing!

So should anyone be surprised that digital rights management (DRM) is collapsing both as a concept and a viable proposition? Well they seem to be! If I listen to my music, they want a fee. If I watch my movie, they want a fee. If I play my computer game, they want a fee. Not a chance!

The reaction of the global market is clear and plain: you gotta be kidding! Everything subject to DRM or other form of control is now freely available, the control mechanism having been circumvented.

Don't get me wrong: I want people to get rewarded for their innovation and creativity. I really do. I want to see them encouraged to ensure we have thriving and vibrant industries. At the same time I don't want anyone dictating how, where and when I can use my mobile phone, or what I can do with my movie and music tracks. They really are mine to use and share as I please.

Trying to lock down and control anything, or trying to dictate behaviour always receives an adverse response.

What the tech industry and its legal eagles don't get is that for every man hour they expend trying to lock down hardware and software, thousands of hours are dedicated to breaking that control.

But even worse for them, they have inadvertently encouraged the creation of a new and competitive industry of free or very low cost lookalikes that do the job just as well, and sometimes even better. So more options are now available than ever before, and we the consumers have a richer choice as a result.

Creativity and use are not things you can control for very long. They are like any fluid - they leak out at every opportunity and spread by unexpected tracks and mechanisms. The impact isn't linear or some simple progression but rather it is an exponential cascade of enablement and further creativity. If it wasn't this way our progress would have come to a grinding halt a long time ago.

About Peter Cochrane

Peter Cochrane is an engineer, scientist, entrepreneur, futurist and consultant. He is the former CTO and head of research at BT, with a career in telecoms and IT spanning more than 40 years.

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