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Thanks for the memories  July 26, 2012

All Starr

Do we really need DRM?

Digital rights management (DRM) exists, mainly, to keep content safe and minimise piracy. In the process, it manages to be an irksome, cumbersome beast that often hinders legitimate buyers from full use of the product in question.

(Credit: Pirates of the Caribbean, Desert Operations image by A47, CC BY-SA 3.0)

Depending on the media in question, DRM works in various ways.

These include:

  • Limiting the devices on which the media can be consumed
  • Limiting the number of times the media can be downloaded
  • Limiting the number of devices onto which the media can be loaded
  • Making use of the media contingent on a subscription; that is, if the subscription lapses, you can no longer use the media
  • Making the media only available for use as long as the user maintains an internet connection
  • Limiting the number of activations, eg, for videogames
  • Region-locking content, eg, websites such as Hulu and online stores that authenticate IP addressed to lock out specific regions.

I'm all for protecting the rights of creators, but the way these restrictions are applied often cause inconvenience to the legal purchaser.

For example, in the case of music, the buyer can be restricted from making backups of the music they have purchased; gamers can't play a game that they have legally purchased in the case of events beyond their control, such as internet connection failing; content may become inaccessible if the user purchases a new computer or device; or, if a service shuts down, the user's access to future downloads has effectively disappeared with it. Content may even perform slower due to added software.

This, of course, in and of itself, leads to piracy — not only does the pirate get a free copy of the content, it's free of restrictions.

It's not the only reason for piracy; but it's often cited by frustrated buyers who can't legally access the content that they want.

Bear in mind that content distributors often state, in an attempt to mitigate the annoyance caused by these restrictions, that what you purchase isn't a copy of the content; it's the right to view it. Digital content is relatively new; prior to the widespread digital distribution of media, which has only occurred in the last 10-15 years, the only way to buy content was to exchange money for a physical product that you could then take home and do with as you pleased. Rentals were different; but digital sales are being spoken of as a purchase and treated, via DRM, as a long-term rental; that is, the distributor has the right to restrict your usage of and retract the content at any time.

But what happens when DRM is removed? Well, contrary to what content publishers seem to think, it doesn't devolve into a mess of piratin' everything up in here …

Apple eschewed DRM of its music in 2009, and has since grown to be the biggest music store in the world. Comedians Louis CK and Aziz Ansari both released DRM-free shows to great success. Sci-fi publisher Baen Books has discovered that having free-to-download DRM-free content on its website has increased sales. Tor Books is about to launch a new DRM-free ebookstore; and let's not forget Amanda Hocking, who published her work on DRM-free ebook site Smashwords — so it's not just the already-famous who can benefit.

So not only has DRM proven that it doesn't work in the piracy-prevention arena, it's been also proven possible that a creator or publisher can achieve success without it.

Meanwhile, what are the actual benefits to DRM? Well, if you buy a product legally instead of downloading it illegally, you're more likely to get a high-quality product and you reduce the chances of downloading something unsavoury. But DRM doesn't have anything to do with that — they're benefits of buying a product from a safe, legitimate vendor.

From a seller's point of view, DRM locks users into using the product in a specific way. It doesn't prevent piracy by a long stretch. From a buyer's point of view, we really can't see that it provides anything at all.

So why is it still here?

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Kuoni posted a comment   

Does anyone know if various types of DRM actually clash with each other?


Ivstinian posted a comment   

DRM limitations on audible drove me to torrents - they have no one to blame but themselves


grumpi posted a comment   

The other point that needs to be made is that DRM is just so futile.

I remember when Lotus 123 was released on 5


StephenH3 posted a comment   

There are some games I will never play, due to the restrictions their publishers have chosen to put on them (Ubisoft, EA). Of course, I'm sure I could find illegal copies of these games for free, without any of the restrictions that the companies include in the "legal" version, but I'm not prepared to do that.

There is no obvious benefit to 95% of the population of the DRM that we're expected to deal with, and it comes with plenty of disadvantages. The other 5% is made up of rights holders and pirates.

I remember back in my 20s, I owned Wizardry V. Each time I started the game, it prompted me with a password. I had to provide the counter word, from a list that was "hard to photocopy". I'm sure it would have been easy to type, had I bothered. Similarly, the original Bard's Tale had a "code wheel" included in the packaging as its form of DRM. Neither of these improved the user experience, and neither would have been enormously challenging to anyone who cared to spend 15 minutes "breaking" the protection.


KenW2 posted a comment   

Just serialize the file so it is linked to you, personally. No cash sales without ID. Everything with PayPal or credit/atm card so your identification information is captured. If it ends up in the wild, they decode the embedded serial and come bust your **** Problem solved.


BruceE1 posted a comment   

"From a buyer's point of view, we really can't see that it provides anything at all."

Actually, it does provide something: a reason to stop "purchasing" content from these morons.

The primary reason it still exists is that if it didn't most of the provisions of the DMCA become totally useless, lawyers will not be prosecuting as many cases, the RIAA and MPAA will lose a great deal of their power (and potential income from their lawsuits), and honest consumers can no longer be bullied as easily by these idiots who want more and more money for inferior content.

BTW, I do look for uploaded content (especially music) that I may be interested in buying. The short 15-30 second clips that can be heard on the legitimate sites are not enough to decide if it is worth my money or not. If it is good, I will buy it; if not, I delete the crap from my system anyway.

So are they really losing out? Not really, espcially if I can download it DRM-free. If it isn't DRM-free, I don't buy it. I need to be able to back up everything. If I lose the drive that I keep my music and other downloaded content on, I want to be able to recover it without having to (maybe) re-download it. If I "buy" something from a source that later goes out of business, I still want to be able to consume that content WITHOUT HAVING TO PAY FOR IT A SECOND (OR THIRD OR FOURTH) TIME. That is just another form of thievery (and in my opinion should result in prosecution).

If they want me to "buy" their content, it MUST be on MY terms, not theirs. If they want me to be connected to the internet just to watch a movie, it's a deal-breaker. Blizzard wants me to be connected to the internet to play single-player Diablo III - nope, not gonna happen. Guess what guys - all of this type of behavior results in LOST SALES. How does that help your bottom line?

Then there are those that I just don't trust at all (hello, Sony) where I will not buy ANYTHING at all from them. So all artists on their label(s) have automatically lost out on potential sales because of their ignorant moves regarding DRM (rootkitting computers their CDs were played on among other incredibly stupid moves). Musicians affiliated with Sony, if you want me to buy your music, you gotta be on a different label (and not just a subsidiary). So the potential for even more lost sales.

I know that I am not the only one who sees things this way. So tell me entertainment industry, is it all really worth it? posted a comment   

I've been noticing region locking for youtube and such similar video sharing sites has become even more rampant lately this is for short clips or single segments.

I dunno, if its a show that airs here, eg talk show person will just watch thje online clip and not bother to watch the show on tv, block them and they either forced to watch tv, bootleg the show or find a mirroed/edited clip that someone else has uploaded and this is only for short segments of shows let alone full programmes.


Chandler posted a comment   

NB: I feel quite strongly about DRM :)

"So why is it still here?"
Because the pirates will copy EVERYTHING and the universe will collapse on itself... that's the only logical reason I can think of.

In all seriousness, DRM hurts honest, dollar-paying consumers the most. Pirate's don't give two hoots about DRM: every time someone brings out a new type of it, it's cracked eventually: sometimes the same day it's released (and how much time and money did you just spend on that shiny new form of DRM?).

Removing it will take away one big reason for (some) pirates. Yes, it'll probably mean your content get's pirated quicker, but these days you often see high quality copies of 'DRM protected' content circling the swarm before it's even been officially aired.

As for content ownership vs rental - rental's are fine, but as I've said here in the past, LET US PURCHASE (DRM FREE!). As Michelle noted: what happens when a subscription-based-DRM service disappears? We're just expected to lose all that content we spent good money on purchasing 'ownership' of?

Remove DRM, and let the money flow.

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