Policed by our own Property
Slashdot is often a good way to discover outside resources–links to CNet and CNN that I might not otherwise read. It’s like having 100,000 people reading everything about everything, figuring out what might appeal to a geek like me, and then posting it. So I appreciate slashdot as a source of outside news. But that appreciation rarely extends to the actual Slashdot content.
Comments, editorials, and the posts themselves are often of poor substance. I only read at +5 (the highest level of moderation) and even then the posts are rarely worth my time. But today I encountered something worthy of a direct link from my blog to a slashdot post. Behold.
The referenced article itself is interesting, but what I really liked about this post what the phrase “Policed by our own property” in reference to Digital Rights Management (DRM). I think a lot about DRM, but don’t write much about it because I’m really of several minds on the subject. On one hand, I don’t like the idea of giving more control to content producers… seems like they have enough with current copyright law. But, on the other, I believe that DRM could be designed to create a more efficient way of distinguishing freely accessable works from those which must be paid for.
Consider for a moment if all digital works were wrapped in a single common DRM. That DRM would certainly identify improper use, with all of those problems, but it could just as easily announce to one and all, “Share me with everyone and make new works of great wonder.” I think that could be a real boon for the Creative Commons and similar organizations.
But I think that this little phrase from Slashdot has changed my thinking. This isn’t just an economic policy issues that can be answered with efficiency models. A shifting in viewpoints is required. I suggest the problem is one of fundamental liberty. I begin with the simple question: is it consistent with the American political philosophy to empower our car to decide that it can go on certain roads and not others? Note that’s different from saying that the law can make that decision and the cops can enforce it. My example gives the authority of decisions and enforcement to the car. Our property becomes the judge of our actions, but this judge isn’t going to be interested in so called extenuating circumstances.
DRM is no different. I pop in a DVD and the DVD decides if it’s going to play or not… or maybe my computer, which I own, decides for me. The decision is made not based on choices I made, but on choices others have made. We would be policed by our own property, and that strikes at the very liberty American political philosophy claims to be all about.