Why We Love to Hate DRM

By Mike on 12:08 pm

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Wanted to watch a movie in back in 1991? It was as easy as popping the cassette into your VCR and watching it on any cable ready TV in your house. Listen to music? Put a CD into your CD player and hit play. Somewhere along the line, someone at some major corporation figured that that was simply to easy and thus DRM was born.

DRM stands for digital rights management. It's also sometimes referred to as copy protection. It's been around for at least 10 years but has steadily become more intrusive. Supposedly, DRM's original intent was to prevent piracy. That is mass producing media content and selling it illegally. Supposedly. The entertainment industry, probably the most corrupt on the planet, has always struggled with the concept of recordable media. Even the VCR was viciously attacked. The concept of the VCR was that people could record their favourite programs while they were away so they could watch them at the time of their choosing. The entertainment industry fought viciously against this stating that it infringed on copyright. I think at one point, Major League Baseball was demanding people have their written consent to record games. The VCR eventually won the legal battle under something known as "fair use", a clause under the copyright law which essentially places reasonable limits on it. You're basically free to copy anything you've already purchased for personal use, tape stuff off the TV/radio for personal use, and copy portions of other material which you don't own, such as book chapters.

The entertainment industry has always hated "fair use" and thus developed DRM to prevent it. DRM in many ways is technically illegal and even violates patents. CDs for example cannot legally bare the "Compact Disc Digital Audio" logo if they have DRM on them. This was something that Phillips specified in their "Red Book", which contains the CD's specifications. Ironically, Sony, the co-developer of the compact disc, would become embroiled in a major legal battle over hidden "rootkits" on some of their CDs.
I'm no law expert but I'd place DRM in a legal gray zone. As I noted, it violates fair use, but it's illegal to tamper with it due to patents. Entertainment companies spend millions on lobbying governments to keep it in this legal limbo while forcing it down the throats of customers.

The true purpose behind DRM, at least lately, is not preventing piracy. In fact, there is little if any proof out there that shows it actually prevents piracy. Many execs have admitted that DRM is a major revenue generating tool. Lets see how it works. Lets take a fictional movie, James Bont: Casino Riviera, a FONY Pictures production. Now I buy the DVD of this movie. I try to rip it to my computer so I can play it on my portable media player. I get an error message that the DRM is not letting me rip it. So then I have to go buy a separate copy for my media player. Therefore, FONY makes two sales off me for the exact same product. Further More, say I have a media server, an OrangeTV. It doesn't use the same format as the version I bought for my media player and DRM won't let me recode to a compatible one. I have to buy and download yet another copy of said movie from yTunes in order to watch it on my media server. That's three sales of the same product. Does that sound right to you? Keep in mind these are all $15-$30 a piece, times three.

As for piracy itself, where does it exist> The entertainment industry likes to make you think that it's just some average guy, you perhaps, in his basement with an eBay account, DVD burner, and a lot of time on his hands. Real piracy is a lot more simple that cracking DRM codes. In fact, it's as simple as $9.95 for a movie ticket and a decent cell phone that can record video. Yep, that trick still continues as portable movie cameras get smaller, cheaper, and produce higher resolutions. It's either done by smuggling camcorders into the theater or getting a guy who works there to sneak you in after hours. Never having bought one of these movies myself, I can't vouch for quality but I expect it to be horrible. Some say you can even hear the crunching of popcorn and the sucking of soda on these fake DVDs. Once they have the tape, they're usually shipped off to the Chinese mafia for mass production. I'd put good money down that at lest 90% of pirated movies out there are of this variety. People buy then though because they're cheap (sometimes $5 or less) and most people really don't give a crap about video quality. No amount of DRM is going to stop this method and if someone as inept as me can smuggle candies into the theater, sure as to god someone can get a camera in there. Therefore, banning all electronic devices from theaters is impossible unless you're going to frisk everyone that goes in. I wouldn't put that beyond them though.

So what should studios do that lets consumers fairly enjoy titles they legally bought while keeping the real piracy down. Well, they can eliminate DRM for one. It simply does not work and they're using it to blatantly gouge consumers. We're on to you. Lowering prices of the product will also turn people away from pirated copies to higher quality originals. Don't charge extra for so called "premium" DRM free products. That's an ass-backwards way of doing it. I figure a fair price is $10 for CDs and $15 for DVD movies. Lowering the price will work to actually INCREASE sales and thus not hurt profits. In fact, profits may increase.

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