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January 22, 2005
A license to sit

Techies and copyright activists care a lot about digital-rights management. But the average person? He couldn't care less. This isn't because he's dumb, or because DRM and copyright aren't incredibly important issues. It's because they're often too abstract to seem real.

Right now, the only time people are likely to even notice DRM is with their music and software. And even then, they usually don't see what's going on. People tend to behave as if the songs they buy from iTunes or the software they buy from Microsoft are property that they own; they rarely read the fine print to discover that actually all they've done is acquire a license to use the "content". If the company that issued that license decides to change its mind later on, it can reach into your computer, Tivo, or iPod, and remove that stuff you thought you owned. Nasty, eh? Except this doesn't happen frequently enough or noticeably enough -- not yet, anyway -- for most people to have had an experience with it. So the big challenge for DRM and copyright activists is simple: Figure out better ways to help the average person understand what's at stake.

That's why I was so tickled to hear about "SeatSale", the art project by cyborg expert Steve Mann. It does a brilliant job of making DRM both concrete and hilariously scary.

SeatSale is a chair that has spikes on it; to sit down, you have to get a "license to sit" that will temporarily retract the spikes. To get a license, you have to swipe your credit card -- or "government issued photo ID card" -- and agree to the "terms and conditions", which are themselves a hoot:

1. You agree not to attempt to understand how chairs work.
2. You agree not to try to discover how software works.
3. You agree not to practice the Scientific Method (TM).

The license is "free" -- in the sense that the chair doesn't charge you any cash to sit in it. And indeed, that's partly what many DRM people argue too -- that the DRM restrictions they put on their content, be it software or music, don't "cost" the user anything; you get to use the software or listen to music so long as you're using an approved device, right? But what SeatSale shows is that DRM has many hidden costs. When you swipe your card you're telling the government where you've been, where you've sat, and how long you were there, for example.

We need more stuff like this.

(Thanks to Boing Boing for this one!)

Posted by Clive Thompson at January 22, 2005 04:43 PM | TrackBack

U-la-la, now we, bloggers have our blog-tbar - !

Posted by: Justin Chakotay on January 22, 2005 09:38 PM

Uhm, no, we don't need more stuff like this. Why would the government be even remotely interested in where the average citizen of the world has been? I say, and this is just a very BOLD idea...just pay for your music, movies, literature and so on!

Posted by: Raad on January 26, 2005 11:17 AM

Sweet, but you do have to love the fact that the pigopolists are telling us that the DRM is 'free'. can you imagine if we had to pay for the restrictions they put on the content?
"You can only drive your car on these roads at these times, and you have to pay me for the privilege of unlocking the door of the car."

I have no problem paying for good content, what annoys me is being told I can only use it on devices that they explicitly approve of.

Posted by: Daire on February 11, 2005 10:23 AM

99339a4a1e2206387daf7780766316ce 9943c14a.

Posted by: 2fe94efce6c on March 16, 2005 11:26 AM
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