Freedom From Software

Today on the This Week in Tech podcast (TWiT), one of their big topics that they discussed was DRM or Digital Rights Management as the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) refer to it or the Digital Restrictions Management as the Electronic Freedom Foundation (EFF). Based on those two terms you guess that this is a controversial topic and indeed it is for geeks and nerds all around. One of the pivotal points that all geeks contend to liking is something for free, we enjoy developing free software, we enjoy the use of software that we can tweak to our own use and the same goes with all other products that we buy. Can anyone out there honestly say that they haven’t tweaked their computer or some other electronic gadget at one point or another, or know someone who has. Many geeks use Open Office (a Microsoft Office clone that does basically the same thing only it is free), Gimp (a Photoshop clone) and dozens of other open source software. For me personally the only software that I use on a daily basis that is proprietary is Microsoft Visual Studio 6.0 and iTunes and of course Windows XP (Note: working on the Linux however my college basically requires the use of a windows computer, so I would need a second computer to put Linux on.). Both of the former I use for only one reason, not that I have to use them, simply that I have found nothing that works as well as if not better than those two pieces of software.

However I do not like the idea of my work whether it is just code, or my music being trapped and tied into one piece of software that if anything happens to either of those companies or the software becomes no longer supported that I have lost all of my data. Imagine what would happen if Apple all of sudden started going under, it happened before when they were at the top of their field (and yes I do know that the circumstances are completely different, but still it could happen, work with me here). All of sudden iTunes is no longer supported by Apple, you buy a new computer but you can’t find iTunes to download and be able to play all that music that you accumulated through the iTunes Music Store. So what happens, you have to sit there and burn disks of your Gigabytes of music and import it into whatever your current music player is at that time. This is same thing that happened when Cd’s came out, all of sudden those tapes you had of your music became harder and harder to find a place to play them. Most modern cars today do not even come with a tape player. So you had to go out and re-buy all of your music on Cd. Imagine what would happen if DVD’s become obsolete in the next 5 or so years? Would you really want to re-spend the several hundred dollars that you spent getting your DVD collection together on the new format of disks (HD-DVD or Blu-Ray, no idea which yet). To geeks this seems like a stupid thing for companies to force users and consumers (read you and I) to upgrade our media that we already bought every time a new technology came out. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could buy an album once and a movie once and have it for the rest of your life.

This is where DRM gets in the way. DRM is designed to prevent pirates from posting music on file-sharing sites where anybody who knows about it can get to them. However, and this is a big point, no DRM has ever not been cracked, all DRM has been cracked and with the internet the hack is posted on forums and such where geeks get to it and crack the DRM on their protected content. The reson for this is simple, most of the time geeks do feel that musicians should be paid for their music and they do legally buy their music, they would just like to be sure that they won’t lose the media if something were to happen. The average person does not, know about file-sharing sites, they only hear about them when they get sued thus increasing the percentage of people who know about them and use them. (Prime Example: The Pirate Bay, which when sued saw it’s numbers skyrocket, the average geek already knew about it, this was the mainstream person who had heard about it through the news and decided to check it out.) Limiting the exposure on file-sharing sites is the best thing to be done, geeks already know how to or do crack DRM and the average person has no idea it even exists and doesn’t care one way or the other.

The point of this post is that there are freedoms from being locked into a software or hardware choice and instead freeing your system and your lifestyle from choices based on what you own, and instead making the choice as to what works best for you. I use iTunes because I can find no equal however all of my music is in MP3 format so I can put it on my SD Memory card and play it in my palm, if I get an iPod or any other music player I will still be able to play my music, along with being able to use any other of the multiple free and open source media players that allow you play multiple audio and video files. I do not post my music on file sharing sites, simply because whatever I have to offer is already available, honestly most of time music becomes available on file sharing sites within a week or less of the music or movie being in stores. DRM doesn’t protect against file-sharing because it is circumvented all the time and it only hurts the average consumer who has to re-purchase their media files every time the technology changes.

(Note about vocabulary: I intend for the word “geek” or “dork” to mean those people who are experienced in computers and in their inner workings and use them on an almost constant basis. These terms are not meant to be an insult, I am one, so don’t complain that I am insulting anyone. It is simply the easiest way to classify a wide and diverse range of people.)

Justin Yost is a full-time Software Engineer and a part time educator. A graduate of Texas Tech University with a bachelor's degree in computer science, Justin relishes programming and learning more about anything and everything. When not working, Justin occasionally gives talks at the local PHP Meetup. In his free time, Justin enjoys backpacking and reading science fiction books.

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