Tuesday, October 3rd 2006

This DRM bullshit is getting out of control. Defective by Design is having a political action day today, so it seemed as good a day as any to vent my concerns about DRM.

DRM, or Digital Rights Management is the name applied to the copy-protection schemes that are put in place by the manufacturers onto DVDs, CDs, or other media files. Many have been tried, and nearly all have failed in one way or another. The criticisms of DRM schemes are all over the map. The aac format used by iTunes limits the number of times a song can be copied or burned. Windows wma format, in combination with asf files, can also contain some pretty strict drm. And the upcoming high definition formats threaten to contain the most restrictive drm ever conceived.

Blu-Ray, Sony's ugly baby, is going to be ridden with drm like an apple full of worms. And it will be updatable drm, so that if broken it can regrow, cancerlike, on your media. Sure, it will look all pretty on your hi-def screen, but will you be able to bring it over your friend's house to watch it? Will you be able to play it in both your PC and your home theater system? And will some guy in Taiwan crack the DRM scheme and cause Sony to remotely deactivate the player you're using? Think it can't happen? It can.

David Holtzman has some good thoughts on the subject.

  • Find a new pricing model. There's an iTunes for movies out there somewhere.
  • Fuggetaboutit. It's true that lots of people download movies off the Internet or buy bootleg copies, but how many adults will sit in front of a computer screen and watch a pixilated movie or be content to watch a DVD where someone's head keeps blocking the camera every few minutes? The kids who download movies off the Net can't afford to buy a real copy anyway. Stopping them from downloading and watching a movie doesn't translate into an extra sale.
  • Go through the motions. Build a minimal DRM, enough to deter people from casual copying. Then, grit your teeth and bear it.

Personally, I'd much prefer to buy my music from Yahoo, where I can get mp3 files with no drm for just $1.09. And I'll stick with good old DVDs for the forseeable future. But what do I know?

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