DRM Trouble? Don't Ask Bono, Bonehead

The Free Software Foundation's campaign against Digital Rights Management (DRM) technologies has posted an online petition intended to enroll U2 singer (and overall pretty Foolish dude) Bono to the cause. If the futility of that effort isn't obvious, let me briefly outline the issues here.

DRM is a catchall term for a number of digital copy protection schemes such as Apple's (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) FairPlay, Microsoft's (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) PlaysForSure, and the open-source DreaM project, backed by Sun Microsystems (Nasdaq: SUNW  ) . All of these technologies strive to ensure that you and you alone get to play the digital content (such as music or movies) that you already paid for.

So far, so good. It's fair to enforce the copyright laws we have, even when they shouldn't have been passed in the first place, but that's a rant for another day. The main problem with DRM is that there are multiple standards and that they aren't compatible with each other.

For instance, if you buy a song from Apples iTunes Music Store and try to play it on a SanDisk (Nasdaq: SNDK  ) Sansa or Creative (Nasdaq: CREAF  ) Zen portable music player, you're out of luck. Apple has refused to license the FairPlay protection scheme to third parties, so iTunes and iPod players are locked tightly together.

Conversely, the market-leading iPod players can't handle PlaysForSure material, so a Napster (Nasdaq: NAPS  ) or RealNetworks (Nasdaq: RNWK  ) Rhapsody subscription is useless to iPod owners.

Now, the petition doesn't bring up this market dichotomy, but chooses instead to focus on music mashups and the fact that the VCR and cassette player didn't kill the movie and music industries, respectively. Widespread copying can encourage creativity and raise awareness of new artists, and the rise of CD writers hasn't forced any of the major record labels into bankruptcy.

Back to Bono. The man is famous for his political involvement, notably concerning African fair trade, AIDS awareness, hunger, and poverty. He's not known for a strong stance on copyright issues, and U2 features prominently in Apple's iPod marketing. It doesn't seem to faze the man that Apple is under criticism across Europe for its tight-fisted grip on FairPlay licensing.

In short, I don't see how a lightweight e-tition is supposed to sway Bono to spend his time on DRM legislation rather than on world hunger. Bono is not really a politician or a lobbyist -- think of the guy as a humanitarian. This isn't his cause, and I'd be flabbergasted if he even issued an official response.

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Fool contributorAnders Bylund owns none of the stocks discussed here. He does enjoy "Joshua Tree" and aspires to Nobel Peace Prize nominations of his own someday, but an anti-DRM campaign won't get him there. Remember the Fool's disclosure rules, even while reaching for the stars.


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