Friday, June 25, 2010

DRM is Incompatible With Modern Life (a short essay)

According to Wikipedia, DRM is defined as:
"Digital rights management (DRM) is a generic term for access control technologies that can be used by hardware manufacturers, publishers, copyright holders and individuals to impose limitations on the usage of digital content and devices."

PC Mag Encyclopedia defines as:
"(Digital Rights Management) A system for authorizing the viewing or playback of copyrighted material on a user's computer or digital music player."

Two very distinct views of what DRM is, and how it is used. The Wikipedia editors seem to have negative bias against it, since it's a way to 'impose limitations' (also noted on the current page: This article's Criticism or Controversy section(s) may mean the article does not present a neutral point of view). But really, if you do a search for DRM you will probably find more negative articles than positive ones. In fact, doing a quick Google search reveals a page of either definitions, articles on why its bad and why it should be abolished, or questions asking what it is in the first place. Not to mention about a thousand sites telling you how to REMOVE DRM.

So, going with the PC Mag version of the definition "A system for authorizing viewing or playback" we have to assume that its a GOOD thing Right? Since it's obviously all about LETTING you get to content, and listen to/view it legally. DRM authorizes use. Which must mean that it's nearly impossible for content creators and copyright holders to release material without it. Right?

Not so fast. (TV's) Wil Wheaton has a blog post here. Check it out real quick, and see why DRM is hampering a paying customer. I'll wait while you read his post and then his semi-short article for Techland with more details. Go ahead...

OK? Did you learn anything? Paying customer, trying to do the 'right' thing and pay for access to content (which is broadcast in the UK for free - pretty sure - , and which is later rebroadcast in the US on BBCA). He did everything right. BUT, since just about everything on iTunes is DRM'd [EDIT: I believe that the MP3s on iTunes are no longer DRM'd, but don't quote me, I buy full functional MP3s from AMAZON and other sites. plus i am decidedly NOT an Apple fanboy :) ](and pretty much incompatible with anything Microsoft {XBox})[EDIT 6/26 11:17am; Just realized that I actually WROTE that. It's not exactly true. Thankfully the interoperability problems of the last ~20years is eroding fast, mostly because of the cloud. The cloud doesn't care if you use Windows, MAC OS, Linux Flavors, Android, Palm's WEB OS, or a comodore64! Unfortunatly, DRM does care. Some will only let you view/use/listen to your purchased content on a single device, or any registered device.]. The limitations of DRM make it so that young Wil cannot enjoy his legally purchased content in the manner he wishes.

So, what possible USE is that to anyone? None. This is MY opinion, granted, but it seems as though these content creators are trying to create artificial scarcity in a market that is dominated by infinite goods. Make sense? maybe not right out of the box, but read a few articles at Techdirt and you'll soon see what i mean. The economics of entertainment, content, advertising, and really, all things digital, are changing. Most of the legacy companies in these areas are desperately hanging onto business models that are becoming increasingly obsolete.

The actual economics of the situation are probably an issue for a different day. Point being, DRM is a hindrance on the consumer. It is NOT an enabler, its a restriction. Punishing paying customers (like Wil) is not good business, and will just lead to more instances of piracy. DRM obviously doesn't work, since all kinds of people are 'pirating' the content Wil is trying to view anyway. Shouldn't the fact that he actually paid for it give him the ability to view it where/when/HOW he wants? No, he is restricted because he is a paying customer.

Another HUGE problem is the laws in the US. Basically, you are legally able to make personal copies of media (DVD, CD etc) for personal use. ie: Say you ride a train every day for 45 minutes to get to work, and you like to catch up on your TV shows or movies while you commute. You can legally rip a DVD to your laptop or iPod or whatever and watch the content on that device. Unfortunately, it is illegal to circumvent any kind of "technical protection measures" -as defined by the DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act). Which means, if there is any kind of DRM or copy protection on the disc that you legally purchased, you cannot exercise your legal right to copy that disc in any way. Why is this? to prevent...

wait for it...


So, does it work? Obviously not. Since DRM has been around for a LONG time, and people are illegally sharing files left right and center all over the world. But, it is pretty much impossible to get realistic 'piracy' stats.

The RIAA and MPAA have been putting out bogus and assumed statistics for years, claiming billions upon billions of lost dollars per year in illegal downloads of movies and music. So, part of the combined **AA's plan(s) to end piracy was to sue thousands of customers over the last few years, another part was 'education,' and yet a 3rd part has been DRM. Have any of these been successful? Well, that's in the eye of the beholder.

GOOD NEWS is, it looks like DRM may be going the way of the dodo.

Recent reports put DRM on a downward spiral that essentially began in the mainstream with Amazon's digital music download service which went DRM-free out of the gate (although it's video streaming service and Kindle devices are still crippled with DRM, even though it seems easy enough to illegally get around). Even Apple, which is notorious for being controlling, has managed to get it's iTunes music un-DRM'd.

now, if we can just get movies, TV and books to go down the same path... which is beginning in some sectors.

The future is a beautiful place!

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