philipshueI am a proud e-book evangelist, and love to convert new readers to the convenience and joy  of e-reading. But one of e-reading’s less appealing features is DRM, and I have been dismayed to see it be the aspect of e-books that has most caught on among publishers. First, it was the coffee people. And now, Techdirt is reporting about another unlikely adopter of DRM technology: light bulb manufacturers. The good news is that the Techdirt story is out of date—the culprits have retreated.

The drama concerned a ‘smart’ ambient lighting system called Philips Hue. It allowed compatible lightbulbs to interface with a control system to perform various functions. But, as the story explains, a new firmware update saddled early adopters with a DRM scheme that is locking out previously compatible products. Quoting the Zat’s Not Funny blog, source of the words below, TechDirt reported:

The recent change seems to suggest any non-Philips bulbs from manufacturers such as Cree, GE, and Osram will not be supported in many situations, whereas “Friends of Hue” branded product are. At the time of publication, it’s unclear whether 3rd party bulbs will stop working immediately after the firmware update or if they may only become inaccessible after the bridge is reset.

To that, my only reply would have been, ‘OMG stop the madness.’ Keurig is not locking out non-branded coffee pods to ‘protect’ my health and safety. They are doing it because they make more money when I buy my coffee from them and not from someone else. It was the same with the lightbulb people. Stop pretending it is about protecting people. It is a money grab, plain and simple.

If you are going to learn about DRM from the book people, you have to carry it all the way through—Amazon does encourage me to buy from their walled garden But they do allow me to load my own content as well. Make special features available in your own stuff, sure. But don’t prevent people from legitimately using their own stuff in the process.

Luckily Philips, as our current headline makes clear, retreated. The Register reported:

Philips’ customers have staged a very noisy protest at the move and the firm has backed down. In a statement on the Hue Facebook page, Philips gave a somewhat ungracious explanation about why it had reversed its earlier decision.

“We recently upgraded the software for Philips Hue to ensure the best seamless connected lighting experience for our customers. This change was made in good faith,” Philips said.

“However, we under-estimated the impact this would have on a small number of customers who use lights from other brands which could not be controlled by the Philips Hue software. In view of the sentiment expressed by our customers, we have decided to reverse the software upgrade so that lights from other brands continue to work as they did before with the Philips Hue system.”

Some inspiration here for e-book “buyers”? Yes, people again and again have denounced DRM, a technology that makes it impossible to own books for real. But perhaps it’s time to be even more outspoken. The Philips episode shows what can happen when enough customers speak their minds.

(Updated at 5:30 a.m. Thanks, Chris!)


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