The government should be brave and make breaking DRM legal, even if the distribution of copied media remains controlled.
Would YOU steal?
My movie viewing last weekend was interrupted by the antisocial behaviour of the DVD I was trying to watch. I arranged the sofa and TV, poured the wine and sorted some nibbles. The DVD started, but the film didn't.
I had to sit through a series of trailers for films I'd never watch. I pressed fast forward, I pressed skip-on and my player told me that the actions were forbidden. Forbidden! My own player, playing a DVD I had paid for! And the DVD would not let me control the playback. I tried the disk menu button, hoping to get straight to the play options, but the disk skipped back to the start, so I had to watch the trailers again.
Eventually, we got to the main feature. Or would have done if there wasn't a compulsory viewing of the copyright notice. And a jarring and jumpy clip showing a ne'er-do-well breaking into a car and stealing from it, ending with a statement equating copying a DVD to theft. You wouldn't steal, would you? So don't copy stuff it said.
Now, I could be pursuaded that Digital Rights Management (DRM) is a good thing that protects the income of poot artists, but after muttering my way through a long series of video clips in my own home that I didn't want to watch and could not avoid, I was rather less sympathetic. Bypassing DRM and copying media is illegal. But it has it's benefits. Say I buy a DVD, but don't want to watch the same trailers and warnings every time I watch the film. Let's say that I bypass the DRM and copy the film to my PC and strip everything except for the main feature, so that I can watch the film the way I want to watch it. That is illegal.
But can it be equated to stealing? Who on Earth has lost in the process? Stealing is a strictly zero-sum game: one person's gain is another's loss. In this case no-one has lost anything, but I gain plenty. DRM which prevents uncontrolled copying is arguably, maybe, a reasonable thing, but it will never work. Copying and free distribution is rampant, and DRM will never prevent that. It will never be more difficult to copy data bits which are being decoded in my player or PC CDROM drive. But DRM does stop me format shifting, cutting out adverts or making backup copies if I wish to comply with the law.
And when DRM is used to make watch adverts in my own home when I am watching a bought DVD on my own equipment, I has gone beyond a joke.
The government is considering making legal the copying of audio CDs for the purposes of format shifting, backing up and giving to relatives. CDs do not have DRM, so these tasks are technically very simple for end users. They should extend their plan to allow DRM breaking for these purposes. Hollywood shouldn't have special protections not available to recording artists.