Amazon makes a case for DRM-free platforms

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Digital rights management (DRM) is any technology that inhibits uses of devices or digital content. On mobile devices, DRM often means that the manufacturer or service/content provider can remotely suspend, close or wipe purchased contents or even a device should they believe that the user is in violation. It is this limiting of the end user’s control over his device and content that I address in this article.

Linn and Amazon
Linn, a Kindle user, suddenly found her account closed by Amazon, and her Kindle wiped clean. Without notice. Without explanation. Everything she had ever purchased, gone. Her device totally useless to her. Amazon says it is because her account was “closely related” to another account which had been blocked, but wouldn’t explain the links or offer any more information. Linn lives in Norway, far away from Amazon’s jurisdiction, and totally helpless. Here is the link: Outlawed by Amazon DRM.

Yomi and Twitter
My current twitter profile will tell you that I signed up on Twitter early last year. Well; that isn’t true. I had been active on Twitter much earlier under a handle using my proper names. Suddenly, I found myself locked out Just like in Linn’s case, I exchanged a number of mails with Twitter to attempt to resolve the issue. I was stonewalled the same way. When I got tired of the dancing, I simply walked.

It wasn’t until early last year that an acquaintance convinced me to get back on Twitter. Twitter is not a DRM example. I simply narrated my experience here to further indicate how common the one-handedness of service/content providers is. The user is left totally helpless. The internet is littered with such horror stories, so these are not isolated cases.

DRM Platforms
With DRM platforms and services, the user has spent money on a device and on content – yet can be summarily thrown out and robbed of their purchases. Users of DRM platforms live under the illusion that they own their purchases, when in reality they do not. Everything purchased remains the property of the service provider and can be withdrawn on the whim of the moment. All gone.

For example, Amazon is not the only DRM-based platform. Both Google and Apple are capable of remotely wiping devices or disabling user accounts in cases of DRM violations. Android fans are constantly jabbing at iOS fans about how “open” their platform is, when it is only an illusion of openness. At the push of a button, the average Android device can be wiped by Google too. I am not sure of how much hold Microsoft holds on Windows Phone devices and content. Cloud services like DropBox and SugarSync are also controlled services. Your account can be closed and content wiped just like that. Cloud-based music services like Spinlet are DRM-based and do not give users control over purchased files. Once you uninstall the app from your device, all your music files are no longer accessible.

I couldn’t have put it better than someone who responded to people moaning about the Amazon DRM issue on GigaOM:

You make it sound like there’s no choice, but there is. Support DRM-free vendors instead. There’s nothing inherently wrong with ebooks. They’re great. But like music and movies, if you support a model that’s not in your best interest don’t be surprised when you get screwed. And don’t cry about not getting the latest best sellers DRM-free. If you don’t work for change it won’t ever happen.

Non-DRM Platforms
Reading Linn’s story, I am reminded of one of the reasons why I used to insist on owning and using a smartphone that does not require a user account to function and cannot be remotely wiped by the manufacturer. I can also load my own content – music, video, eBooks – outside of the manufacturer’s store as I desire.

In every other area of human activities, the world champions the individual’s rights to self-determination and all, but in technology we hail and embrace the Matrix. The world may be in awe of these 21st century systems that seek to limit user control, but I am not. I will forever be an advocate of DRM-free platforms and especially those that give users control over their content.

In a twist, the story of Linn is Amazon letting you know why you are better off on a DRM-free platform. Me, buy a Kindle? Perhaps for review purposes. Those of you interested in using one as a daily driver – especially those of you outside their jurisdiction – you have been warned. You are better off spending your money on something else.

8 comments

  1. At the push of a button, the average Android device can be wiped by Google too.

    the other day, Harry Echemco and I were discussing this.

    it is a scary concept. someone else remotely having so much control on your device plus the contents.

    it is why I do not place too much Reliance on Cloud Storage. you are simply ceding control to someone else, someone that is not necessarily accountable to you !

    of course, as an Android User, if you want forestall that possibility completely , you will merely refuse to register your Android device and source all your apps from The Wild, with possible attendant consequences.

  2. Rented Purchased Content.

    One thing I credit Apple for is that music from iTunes is DRM free.

    Its so annoying that manufactures are allowed to do this.

  3. @Bosun – say WHAT!?!?

    Music from itunes is DRM-free? All of it? So you can transfer them to your non-apple device, and then share them via bluetooth (or other means) and they will still play ok?

    Even the songs that are paid for on the apple store?

  4. For example, Amazon is not the only DRM-based platform. Both Google and Apple are capable of remotely wiping devices or disabling user accounts. Android fans are constantly jabbing at iOS fans about how “open” their platform is, when it is only an illusion of openness. At the push of a button, the average Android device can be wiped by Google too. I am not sure of how much hold Microsoft holds on Windows Phone devices and content.

    Mr. Mo, you are mixing it up a bit here. All the big corporations you mentioned here do have remote access to there hardwares and softwares when you are connected to the internet and can do anything they want with the devices but the question is, do they have the scruples to keep them from doing it? And still, that is not what DRM is all about. DRM is the technologies that enable digital content providers to still maintain a measure of control on their contents/services even when you are not connected to the internet to help them reduce or control piracy.

    Companies like Sony, Apple and even the Microsoft that you are not sure of their stand have been doing this for quite some time now, some even without the help of internet connection. Sony with their Play Station Console game devices and ebook readers, Apple by closing their iPhone and iPad up so that you can only get apps in through their AppStore and all digital media contents purchased from their online stores are DRM-protected. Microsoft were already using Product Key as far back as the days of Windows 98, enhanced that by introducing Windows Activation in XP and have been enhancing it even further. They are starting to control the hardwares that run Windows desktop already and on the mobile platform, apps installations is only through their store and even Bluebooth file transfer to other platforms was not possible before Windows Phone 8.

    And from your definition RIM and Blackberry will also be guilty of DRM since you need to register to use their devices and services effectively.

  5. Harry,

    Yes; I am mixing it up – deliberately. It is clear that I didn’t limit my article to DRM, but rather I advocate the concept of user control and freedom. DRM itself is only one aspect of that.

    DRM on the mobile platforms I mentioned do mean that the manufacturer can mess with you remotely if you use any of them. How DRM works on non-connected devices isn’t the concern of my article.

    And no, RIM/BlackBerry are not guilty of DRM because of the required registration. They may be guilty of DRM in other ways. I didn’t define or re-define DRM that way. I made an argument for user freedom. Being DRM-free is one aspect of user freedom.

    For purposes of clarification, though, I have modified the statement you quoted by adding the phrase “in cases of DRM violations” to the second sentence. Hopefully, that qualifies things better.

    Thanks.

  6. How much control do you think a BB user has if almost all online activities on the BB platform have to pass through RIM’s servers and without which, the user is barely left with a dumb phone. In terms of control, RIM has as much power if not more on BB devices than say Google. And yes, Google can remotely wipe your system at the press of a button but that is not happening and we Android users still decide what goes into our devices and where we get them save for the initial apps bundled with them, that’s user control. Can a BB user, use say WhatsApp, a third party app without first paying subscription fee to RIM? That’s what is called control. Maybe, Android is not totally open source but it is the freest platform to choose among the present platforms still garnering users attention, ie Windows Phone, iOS and Blackberry.

    Android requires registration to use Google services but at least you can use their devices with third party apps without requiring you to register with Google and none of the platforms above is that open, Not even RIM. In fact, BB in some respect is as locked down as Apple.

    Even Symbian too, or can you use the ovi store or mail without registering with Nokia? And don’t pretend you don’t know Nokia has the capacity or ability to wipe any Symbian device remotely, but they have not done that just like Google have not wiped any of the numerous devices running pirated apps initially obtained from the Google Play Store. That is user freedom.

  7. I have a Kindle and have DRM-free books on it. Years ago I bought DRM-free books for devices I no longer use. Can I transfer these to another device? No, because the format has either been absorbed by another company and is “incompatible”, or is redundant.

    The big problem I have with most DRM-free services is just that – the freeness. Always getting stuff free is not a good thing, I am willing to pay for a service so long as it isn’t illegal ie. a copy of a copy or the original, or infringes a copyright.

    I agree with Harry on this – any device or service you have that requires a sign in can be remotely wiped or services blocked. You don’t necessarily have any recourse once you’ve been blacklisted.

  8. Noni,

    I agree with Harry on this – any device or service you have that requires a sign in can be remotely wiped or services blocked. You don’t necessarily have any recourse once you’ve been blacklisted.

    The problem with his position is that he has made up his mind that all devices require a sign in. And I have decided not to argue the point.

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