(NaturalNews) You may not know it, but technology and media companies are increasingly implementing measures to monitor and control the media you consume -- and many of the electronic devices in your home are already part of this system.
Formally, the technology is known as Digital Rights Management (DRM), and its stated purpose is to prevent piracy of digital media such as software, music, movies and e-books. According to the Defective by Design campaign, however, "Since its purpose is to restrict you the user, it is more accurate to describe DRM as Digital Restrictions Management."
The most basic DRM is just encryption, like that found on some DVDs to prevent you from copying them. Yet increasingly, DRM technology is being used to actively monitor consumers' media usage in order to make sure the media are used only in authorized ways. DRM software may therefore report your usage habits to one or more companies.
For example, if you purchase a DRM-protected e-book from Amazon or Barnes & Noble, you will only be able to read it on devices that are explicitly "linked" to your account, and of course you can only link to one account at a time.
But this is only the surface of what DRM really means. In July 2009, Amazon created a firestorm of controversy when it actually deleted certain novels from its customers' Kindle readers due to a copyright concern. The company thereby proved that at any time, it can remove content that its customers have paid for.
Amazon's most recent DRM data grab involves its movie download service, Unbox. The Unbox user agreement requires customers to install DRM software that monitors all their computer's audiovisual media files, as well as the computer's interactions with other devices, supposedly to prevent piracy. If Amazon detects behavior it doesn't approve of, it can remove your files. If you try to use the software outside the United States, you lose your files. If you remove the software from your computer, you lose your files.
The user agreements for other media software (from Windows or Apple, for example) feature similar terms, and the terms only get more restrictive with each software update.
Removing consumer choice
Big media and technology companies are doing everything they can to force DRM on the public in secret.
"If consumers even know there's a DRM, what it is, and how it works, we've already failed," said Disney executive Peter Lee in 2005.
Thus, Hollywood interests pressure DVD and Bluray manufacturers to include DRM on disks and players, and manufacturers that resist can be reported for violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. The recording and movie industries are lobbying Congress to pass laws that would ban non-DRM enabled devices. Libraries and educational institutions have been forced to accept DRM on their digital collections. Users of non-DRM enabled free software may find that the software simply cannot read DRM-protected files. In some cases, users attempting to read DRM files with non-approved software may have their hard drives subjected to punitive measures.
"What does this mean for the future?" asks Defective by Design. "No fair use. No purchase and resell. No private copies. No sharing. No backup. No swapping. No mix tapes. No privacy. No commons. No control over our computers. No control over our electronic devices. The conversion of our homes into apparatus to monitor our interaction with published works and web sites."
"Big Media hope that DRM will deliver to them what their political lobbying to change copyright law never has: they aim to turn our every interaction with a published work into a transaction."
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