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Walt Mossberg on Digital Rights Management

Walt Mossberg:

WSJ.com - Personal Technology: In some quarters of the Internet, the three most hated letters of the alphabet are DRM. They stand for Digital Rights Management, a set of technologies for limiting how people can use the music and video files they've purchased from legal downloading services. DRM is even being used to limit what you can do with the music you buy on physical CDs, or the TV shows you record with a TiVo or other digital video recorder....

Some CD buyers are discovering to their dismay that new releases from certain record companies contain DRM code that makes it difficult to copy the songs to their computers, where millions prefer to keep their music. People who buy online music in Microsoft's Windows Media format too often run into the DRM error message "unable to obtain license" when trying to transfer the songs to a music player. Some TiVo owners have reported seeing messages on their TV screens, apparently triggered by error, that warn that if the copyright holder so chooses, TiVo recordings can be made to expire automatically after a certain period....

[T]he real issue isn't DRM itself -- it's the manner in which DRM is used by copyright holders. Companies have a right to protect their property, and DRM is one means to do so. But treating all consumers as potential criminals by using DRM to overly limit their activities is just plain wrong.... I believe that consumers should have broad leeway to use legally purchased music and video for personal, noncommercial purposes in any way they want -- as long as they don't engage in mass distribution. They should be able to copy it to as many personal digital devices as they own, convert it to any format those devices require, and play it in whatever locations, at whatever times, they choose.

The beauty of digital media is the flexibility, and that flexibility shouldn't be destroyed for honest consumers just because the companies that sell them have a theft problem caused by a minority of people.... I believe Congress should rewrite the copyright laws to carve out a broad exemption for personal, noncommercial use by consumers, including sharing small numbers of copies among families.

Until then, I suggest that consumers avoid stealing music and videos, but also boycott products like copy-protected CDs that overly limit usage and treat everyone like a criminal. That would send the industry a message to use DRM more judiciously.

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