The Free Software Foundation has an ongoing campaign against Digital Rights Management. They promote their cause over at defectivebydesign.org and I think it’s generally a good site to learn about DRM and how it is restricting digital freedoms. Recently, the group held a protest at the Boston Public Library where they demanded that libraries drop DRM from their digital content. They are also going beyond Boston and pushing an open letter to libraries to remove DRM.
Now I dislike DRM just as much as the next person. In fact, I probably dislike it more than most people. I understand that it makes content unnecessarily difficult to access and leaves out people without access to certain software or hardware. But the sad truth is that libraries don’t really have much choice. DRM is put in place by the vendors and if libraries boycotted those companies they wouldn’t have much digital content to offer their users.
We’ve seen the retail sector start to move away from DRM with vendors offering unprotected music and such. We are also starting to see library vendors offer DRM-free content. So we are hopefully seeing the beginnings of a trend away from locked-down content. There’s still a long way to go and it’s not going to happen over night. Baby steps.
So while I appreciate all that the Free Software Foundation does, demanding that libraries drop DRM now is just not feasible. Our users want popular, digital content and libraries need to provide it if they want to stay relevant. Should users complain to libraries about DRM? Sure. Should libraries complain to their vendors about it? Definitely. Boycotting digital content, however, is just not an option.