The Computer Blog

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

Why Playfair Hurts Us All

“Playfair” is a utility designed to strip the Digital Rights Management technology out of songs downloaded from Apple’s iTunes Music Store and allow the user to play the songs wherever they wish. It appeared on the web this week. If you go their website (and I’m not going to link to the site from here), at the bottom of the blurb explaining what Playfair is you’ll find the moniker “Information Wants to Be Free”.

I understand what some of the fuss about DRM and associated technologies is about. Some DRM schemes, including what’s being implemented in the Microsoft Office 2003, causes me great concern, not only because of the hassle it’s bound to introduce into my life but also because it will make it easier for governments and corporations to hide information from the public that might otherwise be incriminating. But whoever invented Playfair is confused. Songs, plays, stories, and movies might be just bits and bites to them, but they are not information. They are copyrighted works. Copyrighted works have never been free, not until they have been released into the public domain.

Don’t get me wrong. I have never agreed with RIAA’s heavy handed tactics and also don’t agree with much of the DRM being imposed by computer manufacturers, which you can be sure will serve their own ends. My argument has always been, though, that instead of restricting what users could do with what they’ve bought it was more productive to offer positive alternatives that made illegal or immoral conduct not literally worth it. Apple did just that when they came up with the iTunes Music Store concept. Playfair poses a threat to that positive gain and reinforces the arguments of the heavy hitters at RIAA and elsewhere. It’s only going to result in no good.

It’s a sad fact that too much of the world is money driven. It’s also a fact that the world doesn’t owe any of us anything. If the folks that invented this utility really want to play fair, then they need to remove it from the web, go look at why they want something for nothing, and let the rest of us download our songs at 99 cents a lick. I spend more than that on a Diet Coke from McDonalds.

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