Shouldn't Linux embrace DRM?

Digital Rights Management is a hotbed of anger, misunderstanding, and debate in the open source community. Having a vested interest in DRM, Jack Wallen asks the question, "Shouldn't Linux embrace DRM?"

I want to preface this entry by stating something very important to me and my world. I am a writer. Not just a writer of technical documentation, how-tos, and other sundry articles, but a writer of fiction. I currently have three published books (you can find them in both paperback and ebook format on Amazon and Barnes & Noble) and, I get the argument on both sides of the DRM fence.

What's DRM? Simple. Digital Rights Management (DRM) is a term for access control technologies that are used by hardware manufacturers, publishers, copyright holders to limit the use of digital content and devices. In other words, I have created a piece of digital content and I want to ensure it is clear who the holder of the copyright is, but also that I get paid for the content I have created.

As you might well know, this is in direct conflict with the open source ideology that declares information was meant to be free. This ideology, of course, is counterproductive to those who need to make a living from their content. I, being one of those who need to make a living from my digital content, want to take advantage of technologies that will ensure I am paid for my work. And why not? I have put in thousands of hours, even paid for professional editors, in order to complete the work I have published.

But, being an advocate of Linux and open source, there is a conflict of interest. Actually, there is a bit of a disconnect between those that want to take advantage of DRM and those that want to abolish DRM. Many within the Linux community (even developers) refuse to include DRM software on the Linux platform. This, unfortunately, causes problems. One of the biggest, current, issues is the inability to play Netflix streaming content on Linux. This is directly caused by the lack of DRM on the platform. Should Linux adopt DRM, Netflix would probably come shortly after.

What strikes me as strange is that (1) Linus Torvalds himself has come out to say Linux should adopt DRM and (2) DRM is not trying to make proprietary any software or keep anyone from having the software they know and love. The only thing DRM wants to do is protect the digital content created by writers, musicians, artists, and the like. There is no evil empire at work, there is no desire to cripple an open source system. There is only a desire to protect the rights and income of the creators of the work.

I, for one, would gladly accept DRM on my Linux system, because I fully understand why it exists and why it is needed. As an artist, I wholeheartedly am against piracy. Personally, I only download content I have paid for — I want the artist to make their buck! And you should as well. Of course, this brings about an issue that is also at the heart of this matter. There are certain industries, such as the music industry, that is less than, shall we say, above board.

The music industry people are the slave laborers of artistry. Musicians get such a small portion of the sales of a CD it's almost tragic — no, it is tragic. I was listening to an interview with David Lee Roth, a few years ago, when he mentioned that of the sales from a single Van Halen CD, the band splits about a dollar. We're talking about a band that, at one time, was the greatest selling stadium band of all time. We're not talking Hootie and the Blowfish — this is Van, freakin' Halen. $1.00. One hundred pennies. Who got the bulk of that sale? The music industry. That's I get why the revolt against DRM began. And, to be honest, the business end of the music industry hasn't changed one iota. Fortunately, there are smaller labels out there producing good artists. But those artists still need to protect their work. They still need to make a buck or those artists won't be producing any product. I, for one, would not like a world without music, and books, and movies.

As I mentioned earlier, I get how this is in direct opposition to open source. But that doesn't mean there isn't room for both. Let me ask you this: How many out there will download and install the latest, greatest Ubuntu distribution and then, promptly download and install the proprietary video and/or wireless drives to make your system work as well as it should? You do that because you don't want to have to settle for a desktop that is inferior to what it should be. But those drivers being downloaded are proprietary and that too goes against the very heart and soul of open source.

Everyone that reads my column knows I am not only very pro Linux and open source, but I am also for everyone getting their fair shake. I want the little guys to win. I want the mom and pop shops to flourish and grow. I want Linux to be the most popular operating system on the market. But I also want those that depend upon their creations for survival to be able to do so.

I ask those of you who think DRM to be evil this question: How could something created to protect the income and intellectual property of the creative artists be bad? And I am not asking that question as a statement. If I am one thing it is open minded. I want to hear everyone's opinions on why they think DRM is a bad or good thing. Personally, as someone with a vested interest, I think DRM should be made available to the Linux platform (not forced...available) so that the open source desktop can enjoy DRM-enabled products like books, music, and streaming Netflix.

Share your opinion on this topic.


Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website

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