Why DRM wont work, and is just a bad idea

May 2, 2008 at 09:37 | Posted in Tech | Comments Off on Why DRM wont work, and is just a bad idea
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As I was talking about DRM (Digital Rights Management) recently. (because of the whole MSN Music mess). I figured I might as well expound my views on the subject. I have been working with computers since the mid to late 70’s and have seen Copy protection schemes come and go over the years. They have all had the same failings (although as the current DRM technologies are geared to media and not software there are a few more). I’ll quickly list then points and then cover them in detail.

1. DRM prevents fair use back-ups.

2. Every form of copy protection and/or DRM I have ever seen (and that is LOTS) has been quickly broken.

3. DRM is a Major turn-off for any customer.

4. DRM is almost always tied to current technologies or formats and thus will have “end of life” issues.

5. IMHO DRM is just plain wrong.

6. The only people making money through the use of DRM is the Companies pushing it, not the artists, and not companies that get sold on it and use it.

7. Things can be, and historically have been,  an economic success without Copy Protection.

Now For a bit more detail (for those interested):

DRM interferes with Fair use backups:

DRM/Copy Protection either limits or out right prevents the legitimate owner of the protected media or software from making backups. Even when backups are allowed their number and format is usually limited which is not in keeping with the modern computer user. Lets say I want to back my media up to a CF drive that I use just for backup. Some DRM would prevent me from doing so. If the DRM insists I burn to CD/DVD it would be nice for the number of burns to be unlimited, because life of CD/DVD’s no definitely not unlimited. All in all a frustrating and potentially costly problem for the person that paid for the right to use the content.

Every form of copy protection and/or DRM I have ever seen has been quickly broken:

The fundamental concept of DRM on Content be it music, Video, or software is an unworkable one. Lets take music or video. if I can hear it or see it I can copy it, period. Short of implanting a chip in my head, and then making this chip the only device the media will play on, there is going to be the “analog hole”. Once content is made analog it loses it’s DRM. Some people hold that advanced watermarking techniques can survive the transformations that take place when going from digital to analog back to a different form of digital but that is another topic. In short, if I can hear it I can put a mic near the speaker and record it. If I can see it I can use a video camera to record it. Doesn’t matter how elaborate and complicated the DRM is once it is in a form that will travel from the computer to my human senses it’s vulnerable.

The other huge hole in the whole DRM scheme is the fact that digital media be it video, software, or music is all just data acted upon by the computer or software in the computer. This means that not only is the data susceptible to outside manipulation that it wasn’t intended for so is the software acting upon it. It is not difficult for a skilled reverser to disassemble the DRM code and see how it works. For a software developer to make a virtual sound card for the DRM software to un-DRM the music into. If we want to get really fancy a hardware tech could easily put together a device that pretended to be a CD burner but was in fact flash ram. The creativity and resourcefulness of people wanting to undo DRM be it for profit, for techie Cred or simple for personal use can never be overestimated.

Add to all of the above that, by using DRM, they are basically throwing down a gauntlet in front of a large group of people that derive much of their sense of self from undoing technical puzzles and also proving that they are just as clever as the other guy. The computer Techie crowd is replete with people that would reverse DRM just to see if they can.

DRM is a Major turn-off for any customer:

Nothing is going to turn  consumers off of a product faster then telling them  a) they don’t own what they just bought. b) They can only use what they bought when and where you say. even given a more advanced consumer that understands the current IP protectionist climate and understands that buying a CD isn’t buying the music it’s like leasing a car..  (yeah, o.k.). This obviously intelligent and responsible consumer is not going to be happy when you tell him or her that they can only drive the “car” on certain roads and on certain days. oh, and if he or she should misplace the lease, the car instantly converts to stolen property that he or she is guilty of stealing. None of this makes for a happy consumer. Especially when he looks across the road and see his friend in a stolen “car” who can drive it when and where they want and doesn’t have to keep some lease in a hermetically sealed vault.

DRM is almost always tied to current technologies or formats and thus will have “end of life” issues:

Thus the current MSN Music mess. I have seen DRM/Copy protection move from media to media and scheme to scheme. Any copy protection (which is what DRM is) that forces the consumer to hang on to something will have the problem of that something becoming lost, or the consumer copying the something and as soon as he does that then the copy protection is null and void. If, in the case of MSN Music, the retailer holds on to the something then the retailer has to assume the cost of the infrastructure to hold on to the something until the consumer is done with the copy protected item and with music of video that could be a VERY long time. Just what every IT guy wants to hear.. “We are going to keep a backwards compatible licensing infrastructure server around for 40 years and we want it to be profitable” that’d be like saying my ISP had to still let me access the Internet with the 300 baud modem I started with.

DRM that works on a .wma container isn’t going to work on a .ogg container and chances are high it won’t work on the container we are using in 2020.

IMHO DRM is just plain wrong:

Does that really need explaining given all the proceeded it. I’m not saying people should be allowed to steal music (of course there are some strong arguments that copying can not count as stealing as it does not reduce but rather increases the supply of the item, again that is another discussion), or software or whatever. I’m saying the content industry has got to stop treating it paying customers like they are convicted criminals. The content providers also have to let go of this foolish idea of “Leasing”. No one likes paying for something they don’t own.

The content industry should reward people for buying. They should Let them own their copy and do with it what they will short, of selling it to make a profit for themselves or giving it away en mass.

The only people making money through the use of DRM is the Companies pushing it, not the artists, and not companies that get sold on it and use it:

Considering how truly ineffective DRM is was and always will be, it seems to me that the only folks making money off of this whole mess is the people producing the DRM schemes. Content providers are loosing customers hand over fist. Partly because they are literally driving them away with all this DRM crap. All the While  the DRM creators and pushers that are getting a nice cut of every DRM’d bit of content that does get bought.. They are making out o.k. and they always have the  next, new, better, friendlier, scheme that WILL work and that the customers WILL like. Even if none have for the past 40 years. I am surprised that The major companies keep throwing money at this stuff.

Things can be, and historically have been,  an economic success without Copy Protection:

There was a world before DRM/Copy Protection. and it was a profitable world. It can be again. Content providers could follow the success of Open initiatives. They could re-focus on Live Shows. They could make meaningful, thought provoking, stimulation content that people really wanted to own instead of just consume. I think the young crowd is going to beat them too it. I think the day of the Megalithic content provider is ended and they are just taking a while to die. I think there will be a not too distant future where DRM is used to secure sensitive documents instead of trying to lock people out of the content they paid for.

but thats enough for today.


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