Cory Doctorow on how “Digital Rights Management” technology and supporting legislation stifle technological innovation:
The primary value of DRM to technology companies: because many countries’ laws prohibit breaking DRM even if you’re not doing anything illegal, DRM gives companies the right to sue competitors who make compatible products and services.
The law has always recognized that interoperability is good for competition, markets, and the public. From generic windshield-wiper blades and hubcaps to third-party hard-drives and keyboards and inkjet toner, and software like Pages and Keynote, the law recognizes that there is a legitimate reason to reverse-engineer a competitor’s products and make new products that replace, expand and augment them.
Companies don’t like this. It interferes with the “razor blade” business model of subsidizing one part of a product and charging high margins on some other part. It undermines efforts to corner markets and freeze out disruptive innovation. It lowers prices and forces you to spend more money on R&D to get the next product out because the profits have started to fall on the old products.
But these are not bugs, they’re features. High prices on inkjet cartridges and proprietary cables and other consumables and accessories hold us back from realizing the full utility of our property. Allowing carriers to lock handsets to prevent the introduction of VoIP and tethering software to preserve high tariffs is good for telco investors, but bad for those of us who buy their products, and it removes the incentive to improve voice-call quality to compete with VoIP. Artificially prolonging the profitability of last year’s invention means that this year’s invention doesn’t get made as quickly — or at all.
Fortunately for those who want to slow innovation and hold back humanity so that those holding patents on outdated technology can gouge a bit more money out of the rest of us, they’re the ones the politicians have been listening to. As long as ordinary people don’t realise how much we’re being dudded by this rent-seeking, market-distorting, anti-competitive, corrupt system, then the extra money the established parasites have to spend lobbying will, in the minds of decision-makers, vastly outweigh the votes of the many, many more people negatively affected by it.