On the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s web site, Cory Doctorow posts a “year in review” article looking at all the progress the EFF made fighting against rampant digital rights management in 2016. There’s been some progress, right?
Only, after actually reading the article, it seems the answer is “not so much.” About 3/4 of it is simply a reiteration of all the reasons DRM is bad—it interacts with the DMCA’s anti-circumvention provision to allow businesses to work around copyright and the free market simply by slapping DRM on their product. Which is certainly deplorable, but it’s not exactly news to anyone who’s been paying the slightest bit of attention.
Yes, I know, it will be news to some people, so they basically have to start every article they do on DRM by reiterating the same talking points because there will always be some people who weren’t aware of them yet. But when we get past that, what has the EFF done? The article takes credit for standing up to the World Wide Web Consortium’s plan to incorporate streaming video DRM into web browsers—but there’s no word yet on the actual results of that protest. I haven’t been able to find any news stories more recent than that one even mentioning the W3C and EME, except in the context of that same EFF post.
The EFF notes it has sent the FTC a letter pushing for DRM labeling—asking that products sold with or without DRM, such as Amazon Kindle ebooks, have their DRM status clearly marked. I have to admit it would be nice if Amazon did take that step—at the moment, about the only way you can tell before you buy is to make a guess based on whether read-aloud permission is enabled. (It also sent a letter (PDF) citing consumer experiences with DRM, including one from me.) But again, how effective has that request been?
Weirdly, the article doesn’t even mention some of the other reform efforts the EFF has engaged in, such as the actual lawsuit it filed in July to try to invalidate the DMCA. But I suppose there hasn’t been any movement on that yet, either.
The EFF piece notes that all its efforts in that direction are part of a larger goal:
It all comes under the banner of a project called Apollo 1201, whose mission is to end all the DRM in the world in a decade.
It’s good to have a goal, and I wish the EFF all the luck in the world in doing that. But as optimistic as this year-in-review article is, all the efforts it mentions and links seem to be cases where the EFF has made an effort, but has few or no actual results to report. Given how common, accepted, and widespread DRM is, it’s going to take a lot more than optimism to kill it within a decade.