Faulty Chair Illustrates Digital Rights Pitfalls
This chair will self-destruct after eight uses.
CREDIT: Gianfranco Baechtold
If you've bought a computer game or productivity software via a digital download, you're already familiar with the concept of digital rights management (DRM). These pernicious systems use a variety of techniques to ensure that software doesn't get pirated, from limiting installations to requiring constant online access. In an effort to illustrate the absurdities of restrictive DRM, a French filmmaker put together a chair that self-destructs after only eight uses.
The limited-use chair metaphor is fairly apt, especially considering that one of the most common DRM schemes involves allowing a fixed number of installations before the program in question stops working. If you have multiple computers or need to reinstall after a system reset, you may be required to purchase the program again, or at least spend hours wrestling with tech support.
Some novel construction techniques went into building the chair itself. It looks like a simple wooden number with incongruous blue joints, as well as a counting device that emits a ticking sound. After a person sits in the chair and gets up, the apparatus ticks down how many unspoiled sit-downs remain. Eight people later, the joints begin to smoke and melt, causing the entire chair to collapse (and depositing any remaining sitters on the floor).
DRM proponents may argue (correctly) that software and chairs are not targets for direct comparison. A chair is not easily reproduced or pirated, while expensive software is more of a luxury item than simple wooden furniture. However, it is unusual that consumers expect and accept one product to become useless after a fixed number of uses, but would never tolerate a different product doing so. [See also: Seven Modern-Day Technologies Sparking Controversy]
While piracy is a very real concern, the DRM chair provides an entertaining argument for why curtailing consumer rights might not be the right way to fix it. After all, pirates never have to contend with always-online requirements, limited installations or secondary systems that slow down the software.
The risk of the video, of course, is that furniture manufacturers might decide to follow the software industry's example and produce products with a planned limited shelf-life. That could admittedly be awkward at your next dinner party, but then again, why pay all that money for a gorgeous carpet if you're never going to sit on it?