"Social DRM" is Anti-Social

In February 2007, right after Steve Jobs claiming to the world that he was Anti-DRM and that the fault of him having DRM in iTunes was that of the majors (which is nothing but a bunch of crap, but I digress), Adobe's Bill McCoy wrote in his blog about his vision of DRM, acting as agreeing with Steve Jobs. His ridiculous arguments leaded to a new concept: "Social DRM". I ditched the whole absurd idea and almost forgot about it. Until now.

It seems that there are lots of people thinking that "Social DRM" is a bright idea. Actually, I've seeing the term in my readings more, so I decided not to ignore the issue anymore, and write a quick post about why "Social DRM" is a really bad idea.

First, getting this straight: I really think that "Social DRM" is less bad than "traditional DRM", mostly because it isn't DRM at all. Yet, being less bad doesn't mean it is good, to the point of making me state that, like I don't buy DRM'd stuff, I wouldn't buy nothing with "Social DRM".

What is "Social DRM"? Well, nothing more than watermarking. Basicly, McCoy is trying to think of DRM on e-books, and his "idea" is to have a "Social DRM" that is in fact a mark in every page on the ebook, make it header or footer, stating something like "this book is for the exclusive use of [insert purchaser's name here]". Why is it bad?

Well, McCoy certainly choose the name "Social DRM" because he understands the "social" need consumers need to have in their "content". A book (or an album, or a movie) is social, because if you read and like it you want to share it, to recommend it to your friends, you're going to cite it on your blog, you'll make references to it in your day-by-day... you'll use it as a social tool. So, he [tries to] argue, when watermarking the book instead of making it have DRM, you're not taking the social part of having the book out of it. It is social because it isn't anti-social. But he's wrong.

Let me make a small and quick list of social things I can do with my books:

  • I can borrow it;

  • I can leave it on my desk and next time I know Paula is reading it;

  • I can give it;

  • I can sell it;

  • I can trade it (bookcrossing-style);

  • I can leave it on the bus bench after reading it;

  • I can let it be used by everyone in the office;

  • ...

Now, how many of this social things I can do with your "social DRM"? I can't borrow it, 'cause you're not "Marcos Marado", I can't let Paula wander around with it on her laptop, she's not "Marcos Marado" either; I can't give, sell or trade it, which means that if I abandon it (or loose it!) in my flash disk on the bus, I might get in trouble, 'cause you aren't me. Does this sound social to you? To me, like "tradicional DRM", this sounds exactly like "I'm having my freedoms removed".

Thanks but no, thanks, I'm too social to buy anti-social "Social DRM" stuff.


  1. If you buy a Lamborghini Diablo, paint it pink, paint a bunch of flowers does that make you a hippie? No!!

    Social DRM VS Classic DRM? In portuguese we have a saying: "Mudaram as moscas mas ..........."

  2. I disagree, because you *can* borrow it, trade it etc. The person will know that it was originally your property and that you gave it away, honor style.

  3. You can't borrow or trade it, because there are some "Terms Of Service" attached, making it usable only by the person whose name is on the file.