One of the points in the Swedish Pirate Party’s program is that Digital Restriction Mechanisms (DRM) must be outright banned – it is not enough to allow their circumvention. This has been a point of contention among coders.
The reason that this is a point of contention is the mindset of “code is law”. It would be enough to allow circumvention of DRM for it to not have any practical effect, coders would argue – if everybody can circumvent it freely, then tools will be widely distributed to do so, and it won’t matter what stupid pretend-locks come on the discs or packages. That is true in a strictly technical perspective, but it’s just not how lawmaking works.
Code may be law, but legislation isn’t coding.
Legislation is a matter of pointing at the bad guy in order to slap them in the face. In order to do that, you need to establish who the guy breaking the social contract is.
As the law stands right now, circumvention of DRM is illegal. In other words, it is the people running their own code on their own computers in order to manipulate bits on media they have legitimately bought that are the bad guys. That’s not acceptable and that’s what needs to change.
You don’t establish that by changing the law to say that these people may not be quite so bad after all, maybe we don’t need to be quite so harsh against them. Instead, you do that by establish that they are firmly within their rights, and that another party – the firms robbing citizens and consumers of their legal rights – are the guys breaking the social contract.
That’s why DRM must be banned. It is a matter of pointing at the corporations as the bad guys, the ones breaking the social contract. That’s how lawmaking works. If you just say that “the punishments for circumventing shouldn’t be so hard”, the bad laws will be back and harsher again in six months, because the people using their own computers to run their own code will still be the bad guys.
Well, they’re not. So that’s what needs to change. That’s why DRM needs to be outright illegal.
UPDATE: There’s been a bit of discussion in the comments field as to what DRM really is and how it could be banned, sometimes again from a coding perspective. Again, legislation isn’t coding, and outlawing DRM isn’t outlawing encryption or anything of the sort.
Outlawing DRM would mean outlawing products that have been made defective on purpose, products that rob the buyers of rights they would otherwise have to their own property. The concept is not tied to encryption or any specific technology like weird formats or formatting, but tied to the fraudulent and exploitative behavior of selling a product while maintaining control of it. The ban could be written into several places in legislation: fraud law, consumer protection law, or contract law, just to name three examples.
As to the argument that “we shouldn’t regulate what people want to sell and buy” — every single thing you buy complies with dozens of regulations. It is the job of lawmakers to protect you from fraud, deception, exploitation, and defective and/or unsafe products. That’s why there is a minimum wage, for example; there are building codes, there are workplace safety codes, there are electrical codes and standards that products must comply with, there are pharmaceutical safety tests. Outlawing products that are intentionally defective is what lawmakers do. You can’t buy a product that doesn’t comply with minimum electricity safety standards – there’s no “letting the market sort it out” if somebody can make a cheaper unsafe product.
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