DRM is not a Dream

Posted By BrokenClaw on April 4, 2008

Digital Rights Management, often abbreviated DRM, is a technology that publishers and producers of digital media use to limit the way you can play their media. In the non-digital world, it would be as if you had to sign an agreement whenever you purchased something for your home. For example, suppose you purchased a nice framed landscape painting. DRM would make you sign an agreement saying that you would only display the painting in your home in a living room of at least 500 square feet. You would not be permitted to hang it in a hallway or bedroom or bathroom. You would not be permitted to sell or give the painting to someone else. That is the type of restriction that DRM places on digital media.

The only difference is that with software, they can actually enforce the restrictions. DRM is embedded into media files to prevent unauthorized duplication of copyrighted material, and the files are said to be DRM’d. However, to the consumer, the result is to restrict access to the media which the consumer has legally purchased.

For example, most music sold as a download from Apple‘s iTunes online store could only be played on Apple’s brand of music player, the iPod. Many people who purchase DRM’d media from Apple have no idea that it’s there or how it works, because they’ve always played it on their iPod. It only becomes an issue when they try to move the music to another computer or to another brand of portable player. DRM can also prevent you from creating a backup copy in case you have technical problems with your equipment. It can prevent you from burning the music to a CD if you wanted to play it on your home or car stereo system.

In 2005, it was discovered that the DRM code on Sony music CDs was actually installing software on the user’s computer without their consent. The software, called a rootkit, gave Sony products access to the user’s computer which was invisible even to the computer’s operating system. The result was a public relations nightmare for Sony. Eventually all major CD manufacturers, including Sony, recognized that DRM on CDs wasn’t good business, so they discontinued the practice.

With video on DVDs, DRM can restrict you from playing the disc on anything but a licensed DVD system. This type of DRM is called the Protected Video Path (abbreviated PVP). In other words, even though your computer is capable of playing DVD discs, the PVP restrictions can prevent you from playing the DVD on your computer and watching it on your TV. This practice is especially true with high-definition video disks, where now you even have to use the special type of cables to run high-def content from the player to your TV. Remarkably, PVP can block you from viewing high-def video on your computer, depending on the monitor that you have or the other software you have on the computer. The producers of the disks assume that if you can play it on any computer, then you will make illegal copies.

By 2008, many producers of digital media are recognizing consumers’ dissatisfaction with the unreasonable restrictions that DRM instills, and the idea of DRM-free commercial media, especially music files, is gaining ground.

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