Doctorow to Microsoft: “DRM is a bad business-move”

By • Oct 2nd, 2008 • Category: 26th Story, Big Ideas, Book News and Publishing, Technology

content_4I’ve been a fan of Cory Doctorow‘s work for a long time (Bruce Sterling calls him “a political activist, gizmo freak, junk collector, programmer, entrepreneur, and all-around Renaissance geek”) but ever since I joined HarperStudio over the summer, I’ve developed a new found admiration for Doctorow’s advocacy for freedom of speech and freedom of information- as well as his general chutzpah. His new book, Content, should be required reading for anyone interested in the future of publishing.

Here’s an excerpt from a talk he gave at Microsoft (click here to download the book in its entirety, for free):

Greetings fellow pirates! Arrrrr!

I’m here today to talk to you about copyright, technology and DRM, I work for the Electronic Frontier Foundation on copyright stuff (mostly), and I live in London. I’m not a lawyer — I’m a kind of mouthpiece/activist type, though occasionally they shave me and stuff me into my Bar Mitzvah suit and send me to a standards body or the UN to stir up trouble. I spend about three weeks a month on the road doing completely weird stuff like going to Microsoft to talk about DRM.

I lead a double life: I’m also a science fiction writer. That means I’ve got a dog in this fight, because I’ve been dreaming of making my living from writing since I was 12 years old. Admittedly, my IP-based biz isn’t as big as yours, but I guarantee you that it’s every bit as important to me as yours is to you.

Here’s what I’m here to convince you of:

1. That DRM systems don’t work

2. That DRM systems are bad for society

3. That DRM systems are bad for business

4. That DRM systems are bad for artists

5. That DRM is a bad business-move for MSFT

Publishers are still grappling with decisions about the importance of DRM. We would love to hear your thoughts on the subject.


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  • Jeff Rivera

    I’m confused about how DRM helps the companies other than a “if you can’t beat ‘em join ‘em” mentality. I know it benefits the consumer greatly.

    I, being an author and marketing exect. can see it benefiting either way in the long term but there must be a happy medium. Personally, I’m not paranoid about people “stealing my stuff” I figure the more people enjoying my work the better.

  • Julia

    Are you saying DRM helps the consumer greatly? How is that?

  • Christian Olsson

    Thank you Julia for a great blog article on DRM/Copy Protection. Would Cory Doctorow have a different view if game protection didn’t negatively impact honest users and actually gave them more benefits?

    The main issue is that current DRM/Copy Protection solutions for PC games and PC applications lock the game/software to one computer and make it difficult to move it. End users should be able to install the game/software on an unlimited number of computers and keep on adding installations, as hardware changes or system crashes etc. occur. The real item to control is not the number of installations; it is how many of these installations can be used, at the same time.

    For more information see the whitepaper ”Is Anti-Piracy/DRM the Cure or the Disease for PC Games?” which can be downloaded at

  • Julia

    Thanks, Christian- I’ll check out that article. I absolutely agree consumers should not be limited to one device: remember DivX?! DRM is actually a hot topic for book publishers as well so I’m curious to hear what others think.

  • Richard Nash (Soft Skull)

    There’s an earlier post on this topic by Sarah which I commented on…DRM is a disaster and every effort to try to find a so-called middle ground has been a failure. Unfortunately too many businesses are loathe to relinquish control (as a result of which control shall be wrested from them). There isn’t really a debate as such any more, it’s more like watching Sarah Palin repeat some talking points in the face of inconvenient reality. The debate is over, it’s just that certain content producers are still talking to themselves about it, as if what we decide will mean anything…

  • Christian Olsson

    Julia, I ran across one company that might have a suitable solution for book publishers: (I have never had any dealings with this company).

  • Julia Cheiffetz

    Richard, I love the Sarah Palin analogy–

  • Christian Olsson, ByteShield, Inc.

    Hi Julia,

    Found an interesting article in today’s Washington Post “Frankfurt Book Fair Survey: 70 Percent ‘Ready’ For Digital Publishing But 60 Percent Avoid E-Books” see