In a recent blog post, the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Seth Schoen lays out a number of criticisms of Adobe’s push to introduce Digital Rights Management (DRM) technology into its Flash Video and accompanying Flash Media Server products.
If DRM was to become commonplace for Flash Video (the dominant format for streaming video on the Web e.g. YouTube) then it would stifle competition and dramatically hinder the burgeoning “remix” culture that the Internet has spawned, argues Schoen.
Software used to “rip” or download non-DRM Flash Video (such as the most recent version of RealPlayer) aren’t thought to be illegal, since they should be covered by “fair use” and don’t contravene the Digital Millennium Copyright Act as no copy-protection technology is being circumvented. Add DRM into the equation, however, and such software would likely be deemed illegal.
Worse still, says Schoen, is that the widespread introduction of DRM for Flash Video would “squash a growing tradition of expressive fair use of online video”:
… a practice effectively in its infancy that, left unfettered, would be a dynamic solution to our failing effort to teach media literacy. Before we understand how to read media messages, we must first learn how to speak their language — and we learn that language by playing with and remixing the efforts of others. DRM, by restricting the remixing of Flash videos, stands to bankrupt a rich store of educational value by foreclosing the ability of students and teachers to “echo others” by remixing videos posted online.
While Schoen is right in his analysis of the outcomes that DRM for Flash Video will produce, the reality is that for Adobe to remain competitive, they have no choice but to build the option of DRM into their Flash Media Server offering.
As The Guardian’s Jack Schofield writes:
Of course, we also know that Microsoft is busy putting DRM into Silverlight, which will enable companies that stream unprotected Flash to stream protected Silverlight (standard SMPTE 421M, aka VC-1, aka WMV9) instead. If Adobe does nothing, that should give Silverlight a competitive advantage for broadcasters, and even the rentagob crowd might not be able to shout it down. So I reckon that DRM is something Adobe has to do, whether it likes it or not.