DRM is a system for prohibiting legal conduct that manufacturers and their shareholders don't like.

Laws like the US DMCA 1201 (and its equivalents all over the world) ban tampering with DRM, even if no copyright infringement takes place.

That means that manufacturers can design products so that doing things that displease them requires bypassing DRM, and thus committing a felony. It amounts to "felony contempt of business model."


The expansive language of DRM law makes it a crime to break DRM, to tell people how to break DRM, to point out defects in DRM (including defects that make products unsafe to use), or to traffick in DRM-breaking tools.

Beyond mere profiteering, though, DRM has more insidious consequences: it creates a world where using objects in ways that suit you can be a literal crime, even if those uses have NO impact on the company's bottom line.


For example, EME is a video encryption standard approved by the W3C. It has many accessibility tools built in, but only those that manufacturers and committee-members thought people with disabilities needed.

If your disability isn't on the list, you can't adapt video without risking felony prosecution (there was a popular proposal to legally require the companies that made the standard promise not to attack people with disabilities for doing this, but they rejected it).


So if you have photosensitive epilepsy, you can't write (or pay someone to write) a filter that looks ahead in video-streams for seizure-triggering effects and block them. You can beg the companies to do this, but you can't do it yourself.

"Legitimate things that the designers didn't anticipate" is an expansive category! For example, Medtronic is one of the largest med-tech companies in the world (thanks to a series of mergers that also allowed it to dodge its taxes).


Despite having been founded as an independent med-tech repair shop, the company is waging bitter war against independent service, so that hospitals must pay its - high-priced - technicians to service their equipment.

Medtronic's PB840 ventilators are the most common ventilators in the world. The pandemic has spiked demand for PB840s even as it has grounded Medtronic's authorized technicians and busted the supply-chain of official parts.



Independent techs are doing life-saving work fixing PB840s, scavenging parts from multiple units. To do this, they have to risk five-year prison sentences, using black-market DRM-breaking tools made by a lone Polish hacker and sent around the world.



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There are so many contingencies that design teams can NEVER anticipate, and there are also some that they SHOULD anticipate. The omissions and blind-spots of companies are bad enough, but when correcting them is a felony, it gets really stupid and ugly.

No one is immune. Consider this tale by Redditor Zeromindz, about a wealthy Ferrari owner whose car-seat installation bricked a performance car.



The car was designed to lock the engine if it detected "tampering" and the only way to unlock it afterwards was via the car's built-in cellular modem. However, the work was being done in an underground garage where there was no cell service.

A Ferrari technician flew in, but couldn't fix the $500,000 car. Eventually they managed to release the brake and a team of workers pushed the car up the ramps and into range.



But then they discovered that some part of all that work had permanently bricked the car. It had to be hoisted onto a flatbed and returned to the dealer.


This is darkly comic, to be sure, but it's also a reminder of the dangers of allowing companies to create an everything-not-forbidden-is-mandatory system for their products.


Under market conditions, some enterprising soul would be making and selling "Ferrari unbricking devices" and mechanics would keep one in a drawer, just in case. Instead, a company's war for excess profits becomes a war on unexpected customer situations.

There's a saying: "If you're not paying for the product, you're the product." That's wrong. Someone paid $500k for this product. Their ability to use it as they see fit is STILL contingent on the forbearance of a multinational corporation.


Better to say: "If a company can make you the product, you are the product." If monopolies or DRM-law (which creates and reinforces monopoly) can force you to arrange your affairs to benefit them, not you, they will.

That, after all, is the ultimate grift - the LEGAL grift. The con that says that you are a lawless cur for having the temerity to have pockets full of money that, legally speaking, the grifter should have.

Image: Zeromindz


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