OEM’S ARE KEEPING TOO MANY RIGHTS
OEM’S ARE KEEPING TOO MANY RIGHTS
2005-09-19 at 12:21:00 pm #12854
Vendors Are Keeping Too Many Rights
sep 05 – When I
consider the big issues in the world of information technology and
policy, I invariably return to a single word: control.
Control encompasses any number of things. But as we move into an era of
increasing digital content in our everyday lives and jobs, at the top
of the list is the question of who’s in charge of information.
At one time, we imagined that we were. We’d buy a product, and if we
wanted to tinker with it, that was no one’s business but our own. Now,
as ones and zeroes become embedded in everyday products and services,
we answer to the sellers as much as the other way around.
Technology vendors strive for lock-in. They lock us in with obvious
tricks, such as Microsoft with its file formats, a monopoly mechanism
as pervasive as its Windows desktop control. They control us with
digital rights management (DRM, more properly called digital
restrictions management) schemes that force us to break the law to make
backups or even to quote from other works.
They forbid us from tweaking or substituting, as ink-jet printer
companies try to do when they misuse copyright laws to make life hard
for other companies that want to sell us cheaper ink. They create
cartels and impose rules like the DVD regional coding scheme, which
keeps us from watching a movie we buy in Europe on a DVD player we
bought in the U.S.
Governments do their part. They use regulations to keep vital
technology from becoming ubiquitous, such as the U.S. government’s
export-control restrictions that still give most e-mail messages all
the data security of postcards. It just goes on and on.
The most onerous controls are being exerted against the least powerful
players in this game: end users, who have the least individual leverage
against big companies and governments. IT has more leverage because
it’s a bigger customer.
No doubt, some in the IT community have used their leverage wisely,
though the typical outcome seems to be a price reduction from vendors,
not any serious divesting of vendor control. It’s not hard to
understand why. The path of least resistance is always alluring when
budgets and time are constrained. It was once true that no one got
fired for buying IBM, partly because IBM, for all its monopolistic
reach at the time, did a pretty good job. For all its ruthless business
practices, Microsoft has been steadily improving products aimed at
The move toward open-source software has been one of the truly
heartening occurrences in recent times. IT has seen the financial
advantages, which may not be as overwhelming as open-source advocates
claim but are nonetheless real in many, if not most, cases.
More important is the open-source advantage in the freeing of data and
choice. Portability is the most essential escape valve in any data
relationship. If you can move it without incurring massive costs, you
have leverage. If you can’t, you don’t. With open-source products, you
I have no religious attachment to open-source vs. proprietary software.
I use both. But I consider my data mine, period, just as I consider it
my right to back up what I buy and quote from others’ work – with
appropriate citation – in creating new works of my own.
The technology and entertainment industries don’t believe in such
rights. For everyone’s sake, I hope IT will fight back, and hard.