Don Marti

Mon 03 Aug 2009 02:53:01 PM PDT

Petitioning the wrong people

Dan Gillmor writes about a petition aimed at Amazon, "demanding" that the company drop DRM from its Kindle e-book reader.

Unfortunately, the last people who are going to pay attention to a petition to change their business model are the people who just sat through months or years of meetings about deciding on a business model. Kindle isn't going to go DRM-free any more than Samba is going to drop GPLv3 or your favorite restaurant is going to start charging for chips and giving away drinks. Whatever issues you raise in a petition, the employees of the target have already raised in their meetings, and they're tired of hearing about them.

What's a better target for a publicity stunt? How about the undecided?

There are some users who are going to fall for DRM schemes, and lose access to their content when the scheme changes, no matter what. Just like there are some users who will leave thermal-printed concert tickets in a hot car, or let their dogs chew on their CDs. And there are some users who will avoid anything that smells even slightly of top-down media control. But the users in the middle are the people who matter. If Joe User is on the fence about buying a Kindle, what would scare him away?

You can't get Amazon to stick those EFF "WARNING DRM" stickers on its own product. But you can put a label on competing products and services, to give those borderline users the heebie-jeebies. It's like labeling your breakfast cereal ASBESTOS FREE. Make the users put off the Kindle for a while. Until next gift-giving occasion, say. And by then, who knows what will be out there? A Roomba that washes any pets and children in its path? Who knows. Something cooler than a Kindle, anyway.

We tried this for a while: Lydia Kinata's OPEN stickers. Today, a similar logo could just have the text "DRM-Free." Now that DRM has made it to the comics page, people will know what you mean. One of the free software organizations would be a useful trademark holder, just to make sure people don't put the logo on the wrong thing.