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Eliminating headphone jack = adding DRM for audio

‘Nilay Patel’s magnificent rant about Apple’s announcement that future phones won’t have headphone jacks starts with the main event: “1. Digital audio means DRM audio.”

It’s true: the existence of HDMI ports enabled the use of HDCP, and led to the growth of video services whose products refused to play at full resolution (or at all) through analog outputs, and also arbitrarily refused to talk to various monitors and screens if some secret algorithm decided that they’d be a risk.

Patel later notes that “Ditching a deeply established standard will disproportionately impact accessibility,” but misses the connection between these two phenomena. Once there’s DRM on an output, then you can only plug new devices into that output if you have permission from the consortium that made the DRM. That group may make some accommodations for accessibility, but can never think of all the use-cases and solutions that a wide-open standard will have (for example, the W3C’s video DRM, EME, has many accessibility accommodations, but wouldn’t allow color-blind people to shift the gamut of video in realtime).

The point of DRM isn’t that it is technically challenging to defeat: it’s that it allows manufacturers to invoke the DMCA — and international analogues, such as European laws that implement the EUCD — to prevent people from doing legal things…

Headphone jacks’ ubiquity have made them a target for all kinds of innovative thinking. My favorite underwater MP3 player uses one for both charging and USB file-transfer (!), and manages to make it waterproof (!!). Square and Stripe have enabled individuals and small businesses to transact billions of dollars’ worth of commerce using a headphone jack as a UI (partly because connecting to the other ports on phones comes with so many onerous conditions and requires permission from so many parties).

When we allow a company, or a cartel from an incumbent industry, to monopolize the things that can plug into products that we all use, to convert their commercial preferences to legal obligations, we shut down innovation, at the expense of all the people who stand to benefit from that innovation…’

Source: Boing Boing