Monday April 17, 2006
Stanford Law School
Open to All
DRM strategies for technical copy protection regulate the use of content by imposing “compliance” rules on manufacturers, dictating that devices be designed to chaperone the user. These compliance rules raise concerns for the new balance of copyright being struck by these control mechanisms. But less often discussed are “robustness rules” that accompany them, requiring manufacturers to build their devices to “effectively frustrate” users from investigating the inner workings of the device itself. Not only must the technology regulate its users, it must be inscrutable to them. This aspect of the DRM approach must be examined for its potential implications -- not only for manufacturers of entertainment and information technologies, but for users. I will investigate this concern by asking not what it does to limit users, but how it shapes the very possibility of user agency, the sense or knowledge that one can investigate and manipulate their own tools. Recent work in the sociology of technology offers intellectual tools for this consideration, to ask first what users do with their technologies and why this is important, what it means for users to have and experience agency with their own tools, and what a mandated and enforced change in this sense of agency could mean for the life of cultural technologies.
Tarleton Gillespie is an assistant professor in the Department of Communication at Cornell University, and affiliated with the Department of Science & Technology Studies and the Program in Information Science. His book, Technology Rules: Copyright and the Re-Alignment of Digital Culture, will be published by MIT Press in early 2007.