What? There's A Downside To DRM?

from the say-it-ain't-so dept

Copy protection and DRM aren’t wonder toys. What protection — if any — they provide content suppliers comes at a pretty significant cost. A Yahoo exec ruffled some feathers when he said the company would be better off selling music without copy protection, and several people in the industry are wondering if copy protection is really worthwhile, noting that it’s probably not stopped any piracy, but has also hindered sales. While it’s easy to reject copy protection out of hand on ideological grounds, it’s also hard to make a good business case for it. You’re making your content less valuable, and limiting the audience to which it can be sold. The industry needs to figure these things out, and quickly, or a solution will probably be foisted on them. Consumer groups in Norway and the UK have lodged complaints about iTunes, the iPod and its DRM, and the French copyright law that’s being discussed could force proprietary DRM systems to open up so consumers could listen to their music on any device they want.

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Comments on “What? There's A Downside To DRM?”

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Herb Sprat says:


What’s happening now is that savvy consumers are not buying music that is “protected” because they can’t play it on any device they have. If you want to play on a cd player, you can’t use an MP3 player.


Or wait, and some brilliant individual will crack it and then everyone will be happy. . . except the “poor” rock stars and other performers who only make a 50 MILLION or so a record. My heart bleeds for them.

Microsoft is the Fagin of the 21 century.


Jonathon says:

Re: Re:

Also, they have to realize that where there is a will there is a way…and they out to know that there is quite a large will out there. While DRM isn’t in itself an entirely bad concept, they have to realize that it is not being properly enforced, due to several reasons. First, everyone wants to “roll their own” and that has led to vendor lock in…which obviously we as conusmers don’t like, but businesses do. However, the recourse of the players not being able to work with all of these differnt implementations is one of the major sources of public outcry. Back in the physical distribution days, if you had it, could do whatever you wanted and there was a standard method (tape players, cd players, etc) to use it…but digital distribution and digital players have changed that. Ok, I could go on, but thats enough

Colby Callahan (profile) says:


I don’t think taking copy protection off of CDs makes them less valuable. It should make them more valuable. Value is considered from a buyers standpoint. A CD with less restriction should be more valuable to a consumer, simply because you can do more with it. One could make copies of his/her own CD and not be worried about the original scratching, breaking, etc. This is reason enough to say it has more value. I’m sure you can find some more ways the CD, free of copyright protection, can be considered more valuable.

TJ (user link) says:

DRM is an insult to the consumer.

I recently started a company that sells music online (http://www.indieground.net) and we decided not to use any DRM technology. DRM is insulting to consumers; it’s like penalizing them for obtaining the music legally. Why would I buy a protected song that’s harder to work with, when I can download it for free? There’s a certain percentage of people who are always going to download music illegally, their is a certain percentage of people who are always going to get their music legally, but DRM is a great excuse for those who sit in the middle to chose to get their music illegally. I personally take offence to the larger companies limiting my use of the music I paid for. DRM is applied only to legally obtained songs, which is ridiculous and redundant; you are limiting the usability of songs to the one group of people who are obtaining them legally. Pirates would never encounter DRM because they’re not buying the music legally anyways. 15 years ago people used to tape songs off the radio; 10 years ago people would tape videos off MTV…. why is this just becoming a problem now? My company does not use DRM on our product; all songs are high quality (320kbps) MP3s with no limitations (other than your consumer’s own morals) and informative ID3 Tags.

Nowandever29 says:

Why BUY limited, when I can get UNLIMITED for FREE

Geesh, the record labels are wondering why people are pirating music? Why should anyone BUY music that is crippled and restricted, when they can easily and safely (with a service like secure-tunnel) download the same music, with NO RESTRICTIONS?!?!?

They wonder why CD sales are down?!? Nobody is THAT dumb…really……………..

Actually, I guess they are…

DWBjr (user link) says:

A Non-DRM Solution is a Stunningly Naive One

To date, I have not heard a good argument FOR a non-DRM solution to valuable media distribution. If you’re simply promoting something, and your content isn’t valuable… or you have something more valuable through the exposure than the loss of control of your content… then go ahead. No-DRM you and your bad self.

Otherwise, open your eyes to the world around you. I can’t help but scoff at every wishful thinker out there who thinks #1.) that DRM is an attempt to “prevent” and not to “deter”. Hello! A locked safe is a deterrant to a thief, with the hope being most thieves will just give up. Deterrant actually accomplishes the goal, which is to encourage legal purchasing. #2.) that ANYONE would consistantly PAY for non-DRM media. Hm. Let’s work this out shall we?

Ever heard of WinZip? Ever paid for it? What percentage of the people downloading WinZip, do you think paid for it after the trial period was over? Why am I even talking about WinZip? –Because, its an example of human nature. If you can get away without paying… MOST people WOULD. If all music wasn’t protected, I’m sure a lot of local sharing networks would pop up, even between friends. Would this cause an amazing genesis of opportunity for creators and independant artists… nope. There’d be so much music passing around, it would likely all blur together really quickly. You’d have your favorites, sure… but the signal to noise ratio would be intense.

People would copy music like there was no tomorrow. Half the time, you wouldn’t even know what you were listening to… it’d be some mix you got a copy of from so-and-so. A friend of mine copies DVD’s like there is no tomorrow. He takes pride in his rips from Netflix. He laughs openly at the DRM on DVD’s and I feel bad for him, because he has more movies than he’ll ever watch and half the time he doesn’t watch them. He says he hasn’t purchased music since he doesn’t know when. He uses Limewire voraciously. Why? Because HE CAN. Hell, if I could ask a friend to chip in on iTunes giftcards, and we could share our music… actually, we can… I mean, if more than 5 friends wanted to get together to share our iTunes music. I WOULD. Split the cost… it’d be so much cheaper. But the DRM prevents that… So, eh.

Does DRM stop piracy? No. does it deter piracy? No doubt whatsoever. How do we know? Any barrier to entry stops a percentage of people, just a question of how many. Hard to make a good business case for copy-protection? I sorry, are we all just drinking the same kool-aid? Cum buy ya isn’t the national anthem. If stealing is effortless, you get more and more innocent people not knowing that they are doing something wrong. That’s just reality.

Personally I wish everything were free, but that’s not how the world works, folks. It bugs me that people try so hard to bend reality until it breaks.

Adam says:

Re: A Non-DRM Solution is a Stunningly Naive One

Marijuana is legal in Amsterdam. Has this lead to a greater number of marijuana users in Amsterdam than in any similarly sized cities in the US? How about prostitution?

Not everyone steals to have something. Some people just steal to steal. Your friend is a perfect example of this. He steals movies to revel in defeating the DRM and MPAA, he doesn’t care about not having to rent the movies. After all, he doesn’t even watch most of them again.

I am not a professional analysist, and I don’t have a great in-depth knowledge of the recording industry, but I think that this can only help them. The people who steal music will still steal music, the people who don’t won’t, and the recording industry looks a lot better. A few people on either side of the line might decide that it’s better on the other side, but no overwhelming shifts will occur. Good press, no costs.

That One Guy says:

Re: A Non-DRM Solution is a Stunningly Naive One

So if the music industry can’t survive without a DRM solution then why are artists selling their music without DRM still going platinum and multi-platinum?? Is it a fluke??? Nope. Then it must be that there are people still paying for music. So ask the group of people buying the CD if they would like to copy their music for their personal use in different media and I gaurantee you that you would hear a resounding yes. They say yes not because they are planning on doing anything illegal but because they bought it and they want to enjoy it using whatever technologies they have available.

And in the comparison to winzip, it is so rare that you will see a CD at your local supermart or a song at your favorite internet music store for free, so we know that people aren’t grabbing and running. Does this mean that their aren’t pirates? No. But does DRM stop pirates? No. So If someone is going to reverse engeneer a CD and have it on Limewire in 4 hours from its release, and if all the pirates know where that person posts that music, DRM is rendered useless (except to piss off consumers).

jeff schrock says:

Re: A Non-DRM Solution is a Stunningly Naive One

You are confusing unlocked content (non-DRM’d music) with unlocked distribution (available for free).

Just because it doesn’t have copy protection doesn’t mean it’s widely and freely distributed.

WinZip as the future of music in a non-DRM world? Clearly, the millions of dollars generated from emusic (non-DRM, primarily indie content) is a better example.

The music industry could, if it so chose, (1) remove all DRM requirements – the tech industry would remove it immediately or (2) require that all DRM systems be interoperable (clearly more challenging of a proposition) But, if a DRM standard were established, the compatability problems would largely disappear.

Sal says:

I personally dont have a problem with DRM for software and films but I have a big problem with DRM for music. We treat music differently to other copyrighted material, films most people are happy to watch once hence the popularity of video/DVD stores – once you’ve seen it – unless its unbelievably good – you’re pretty happy not keep it. Zillions of dollars are spent and thousands of people employed in each film production – there seems to be a more genuine reason to DRM protect them. But music is very different – the cost associated with producing a CD from a labels point of view is by and large PROMOTIONAL & PROFIT MARGIN, lets face it artists get next to nothing, with the increase in technology its much easier and less expensive to record a song, and with the help of the internet distribution costs can be next to nothing. As for promotional costs – they need to realise that it is now a viral market and mass marketing is out the window.

I would gladly pay for a track from Apple if it werent for the DRM. DRM punishes those that are willing to do the right thing, if you’ve ever read the blog Freedom To Tinker you might know that most of the time CD DRM can be circumvented by holding down the shift key or by running a black marker around the edge of the CD. The record labels need to wake up to themseleves and really start to evaluate what they are doing. The only people stronger than them is us, the market, we need to boycott all DRM products in large numbers until they get the message that they cannot litigate their way back into a market and they cannot force dodgy DRM on us

You asked; are they really that stupid?


just me says:


DRM only punishes the legal users. There is at least 3-5 different ways to grab music that I can think of and not have to worry about the DRM. The music industry needs a scapegoat because their sales has dropped. So they have to blame their lack of sales on the consumer. It’s not the consumer. It’s the Music Industries greed, lust, and lack of talent that reduced sales. Monitor the Music Industry, then we can all see who is to blame. Stop taking the word of the Music Industry. naturally the Music Industry will favor anything that makes them look good, and turns everyone else into villains.

Paul says:

oh my god

DWBjr paints such a horrific picture of a future without any sort of DRM, chaos in the streets, people throwing copied cds at people as they drive by in their cars. Half the time you don’t know what you’re listening to because some random hippie snuck a copied cd in your cd player without you noticing.

How did the world ever survive BEFORE drm????

DWBjr (user link) says:

Paul, like I said… before DRM, we weren’t anywhere near the level of digital connectedness we are now, were we? I remember on my Commodore 64 getting a disk full of copied games from a friend of a friend. Just starting to get hooked up with my first BBS. Same on my Mac Plus, using First Class, etc. Never thought about getting “digital music” or downloading movie rips. Now the genies out of the bottle, and you can get ANY content online… not just pirated software. The ubiquitousness of digital media, constant peer-to-peer connectivity, and broadband makes it a Whole… Different… World. Right?

Also, I should make a distinction. Talking with a friend of mine, it’s clear I feel differently about two different applications of DRM.

There are the Napsters and Apples, whose business models require it… but then there are the CDs and DVDs with media, with ever more complicated DRM being wormed into the medium (pun intended) like a bad retrofit. I don’t want to hear my mother complaining that Bridges of Madison County won’t play on one of her DVD players. I don’t want to hear my uncle wondering why his machine is acting funny after purchasing the latest album from Kenny Rogers.

I think perverting a existing “standard”, in hopes of preventing theft is stupid. Digital media publishers should only distribute or not distribute on CD or DVD. If the format is no longer satisfactory, stop using it. If people can rip your CD or DVD implementation… its OVER. Sorry, charlie. Sony shouldn’t be trying to rootkit your computer in hopes of stopping you from ripping the CD you just bought.

However, Apple and Napster have every right to build DRM into their music formats and players. The idea that France will require Apple to make its format playable on ANY music gadget is ridiculous. Apple spent money to build out an infrastructure. It developed a format that helped it establish trust with its content partners. The whole mechanism is an agreement between their partners, their customers, and Apple itself. You’re not forced to buy music on iTunes or Napster. It’s a convenience. If you removed DRM Apple uses, or forced Apple to weaken it significantly by spreading it between a host of partners, it defeats the purpose.

DRM is a deterrant. It will NEVER stop piracy. BUT, as a deterrent, makes most consumers play within the scope of their license agreement. For those that do not, there is prosecution (which France advocates, and I think is sad enough as it is… come on, I don’t want more 65 year old grandmas on tv being sued by record companies, that’s stupid) or there is simply making it difficult “enough” that folks say “what the hell” and just BUY the damn thing. I could RIP DRM off of ANYTHING I’ve purchased from Apple. How? Whether video or audio, I can simply re-record it, even on the digital level. It just takes time to reprocess it. Do I want to? Why bother. It works fine.

The idea that Apple or anyone who uses DRM in their business model, as opposed to publishers attempting to add it to standard formats, I think works. Sony’s “DRM” alternative should really just amount to producing better products and making prices much attractive. If they can no longer trust the CD format, then they need to stop distributing it. Not making it harder for consumers to use devices they already have in their houses.

Mike (profile) says:

Re: Re:

DRM is a deterrant. It will NEVER stop piracy. BUT, as a deterrent, makes most consumers play within the scope of their license agreement.

This argument has never made sense to me. It’s a deterrant for what? Earlier you make the argument that downloading would be widespread without DRM, but that’s not true because it’s already widespread with DRM. All it takes is one person to break the copy protection, which always happens, and the content always gets released. So the fear of everyone just getting stuff for free is bogus. It’s already available — and yet people *are* still paying for music. If your original prediction made sense, then no one would pay for music.

So, the deterrant factor isn’t about stopping the music from being available for free, but to prevent “casual copying.” Again, here’s where your argument breaks down. The risk and threat of casual copying is quite low — and in many cases casual copying has been seen to actually increase the size of a market, by introducing music to new people who later are willing to purchase music, tickets, merchandise, whatever.

Meanwhile, the DRM actually makes the music *LESS* valuable to buy for a variety of reasons. First, it allows much less flexibility. This is the leading cause of complaints after all. People want to be able to take their music anywhere or listen to it on any system. DRM gets in the way of that. It doesn’t benefit the customer at all. Second, it takes away any and all resale value of the music. The price of most products takes into account its resale value. By using DRM, the resale value disappears completely.

So, again, the idea that DRM makes business sense just isn’t supported in any way that I can find. Scary bogeyman stories don’t count as proof.

DWBjr (user link) says:

DRM as deterrent...

When you talk about “widespread” with DRM, hold on there. Are you saying that, for instance, music downloaded from Apple’s iTunes is being distributed in a “widespread” fashion, or that copying music is “widespread”. Without taking your eye off the ball, there’s a big difference. If you’re saying CD and DVD based DRM exists, yet re-distribution is widespread… I agree. As I said, I think DRM on CD and DVD’s is stupid because that media needs to be compatible with a wide number of vendors, and as such, consumer rights (to buy a DVD player and expect it to work in their HiFi system or their computer) are being trampled. In the case of Apple, however… nothing is STOPPING you from doing ANYTHING with your music!

Why would it be a personal use abuse, not to allow you to immediately upload your song to a website so other people can listen to it? That’s the usage that I see as immediately inaccessible with Apple. Nothing stops you from burning and ripping it again en masse, if that’s really what you want to do… but Apple prevents you from immediately e-mailing a song to all your friends. That’s important in my book. You say “flexibility” is impaired… What flexibility is this, that its so impaired? For the average customer, it is a non-issue. You NEVER had a “right” to re-distribute music, but you can still do it if you take a few easy, extra steps.

I guarantee you… if Apple had no DRM on its downloads… sure, people would share on a level that will make your notion of “widespread” pale in comparison. There’d be no need for Apple to have an affiliate program… if someone wanted to recommend something to their friend, they’d just send it along. 2 megs? Easy peezy. Never mind they have like 50 friends. We’re in the age of relationship networks too, remember?

When Napster and Morpheus were in the height of their game… they were gaining users by the truck loads. Um… where is the SPIKE in music sales? I don’t think I saw one anywhere, did you? In my opinion, the legacy of the genie escaping the bottle, in concert with the changing face of distribution, is what is causing a depression in sales. Despite reports to the contrary, I don’t see those as anything more that lies, damn lies, and statistics. Common sense trumps it. Hm… free vs. pay. Pay vs. free…? If I pay do I get anything more? No? Eh. Don’t mind me, I be over here getting “free”.

Again though… I agree, CD/DVD DRM… just cut it out, its lame. But DRM that makes Napster and Apple legal, and a viable distribution partner for major studios? Awesome stuff. Yahoo has Launch.com. Streams music stations over the Internet. Would they be so hot about allowing downloadable DRM-free music if it meant losing traffic? Yahoo, why don’t you let us download those music videos, hm? Isn’t that your form of DRM? Requiring us to view it on your site, so that the artists get paid with your commercials in between, and ads on the page, or subscription fees in play?

Control makes the world go around. Why have laws? If you had to SUE everyone to combat crime instead of stifling it with “prevention”, it would quickly become unworkeable.

I appreciate your arguments, but its mostly wishful thinking to think that DRM in generally has no purpose. It’s the wish being grafted onto reality. Not practical. I’ve been more enchanted with discussions on compulsory licensing… but even that seems like pie-in-the-sky. The arguments over who determines “popularity” immediate become very disturbing as the dynamic marketplace comes into play and storage sizes increase exponentially.

crazy old person says:

DRM is our future

I’m glad we’ve got DRM nowadays.

When I was young, and bought LPs, my friends would give me tapes of their LPs and I would tape my LPs for them. I didn’t want to but in those days you were forced to do it, you made tapes or you had to work down a mine for 20 hours a day.

It was madness. there was no security or happiness. We were all sad all the time and nobody liked music and no musicians made any money.

Nuclear war was mere seconds away.

Now that DRM is finally here (hooray!) I can relax, knowing that the music I am listening to is suitable for me, and that I am allowed to listen to it by my free-market masters and that I am not upsetting anyone or threatening world peace or freedom or anything.

I can also rest assured that the music I listen to in my car, or on my walkman is suitable for cars, or streets and will not cause economic meltdown.

I also get a nice feeling knowing that many talented people can now afford basic commodities, which didn’t happen in the bad old pre DRM days.

Now I look forward to the time when I am allowed to pay for a song whenever I listen to it, wherever I am. In those days we will look back at the past with amazment. How could we ever live with ourselves, buying music only once, and knowing that there are poor artists and record excecutives who are having difficulty making ends meet.

In the future, when DRM is everwhere and everthing, there will be lots of new music, since the lack of DRM and evil pirates have prevented any new music throughout history, right up till this day!

If only Mozart was alive today, think of the wonderful music he could have sold us by the minute. Why? because he would be motivated to! Without DRM, he had no motivation, and therefor wrote no nice music.

Imagine the joy of discovering that the new Beatles song is compatible with your player. Our forebearers did not have that pleasure, and as a consiquence, the Beatles didn’t do much or get very far.

DRM, where were you when we needed you? Thank you Record Companies, for giving us your invention of music. We love you for it. Thank you DRM for allowing us to listen to music. Humanity was lost before you.

Tom (profile) says:

DRM - Keeping honest people honest

The crooks and pirates already have the hack codes and are not even slowed down by DRM. It’s the normal, law-abiding user that is adversely affected by DRM. This fact has been proven over and over again, as far back as when Lotus thought a a laser-burned hole in a floppy disk would keep people from pirating their 1-2-3 spreadsheet.

grumpysecretary says:


What I wonder about is the full scope of this law? If it really is as it’s been described, what about codecs? Codecs are a much greater obstacle to a user playing music “on any device”. All companies have not licenced AAC from MPEG LA. Not to mention Apple’s own version off AAC. How does this law propose to deal with that? Will all services in France be limited to the low quality MP3 format? What about open source codecs that have very little support with device manufacurers? Will they be banned as well? Just curious.

DWBjr (user link) says:

Ban Proprietary Formats?

I doubt proprietary formats would be banned or anything. From the wording, it sounds like the maker of the format must either not take measures to actively counteract people that reverse-engineer their format or provide a way to convert to a “standard” open format.

It would be pretty illogical to require vendors to provide additional support for “cracking” their own format, essentially creating a “debabelizer” or “media cleaner” product and giving it away for free.

There’s a lot to the law that sounds good, regarding combatting piracy, et al. There’s a lot that sounds like naive logic in a capitalistic system. Moreover, I just think lawsuits are a ridiculous way of counteracting the act of doing something that is so easy to do. It reminds me of that movie “Amazon Women on the Moon” and the video “pirates” that laugh at the FBI warning as their videos start up.

When laws are so effortless to privately break in the comfort of your own home, it seems fairly unrealistic that this sanctum should be violated as a matter of course in protecting copyrights. I was talking to some people at work today, and I got blank stares when I said that France wants Apple to “open up” to other players. The first comment was “Can’t you burn anything downloaded from iTunes to a CD?” I had to shrug.

Much like a RAM disk, I have to wonder whether it would be entirely impossible to “fool” iTunes into “burning” to a “virtual CD” of any size. Isn’t iTunes dependant on Windows drivers? Is a virtual CD driver entirely implausible?

SS says:

Apple DRM a Pain

Originally when I got my iPOD I thought iTunes was pretty neat and bought a bunch of songs. Now I find the DRM a real hassle. I have my iPod hooked up to my stereo on the top floor and go to play a song and it skips it, so I have to go all the way down to the basement, hook it up to my computer and get it updated, then go back up to the loft, plug it into the stereo and listen to the song. After this happened a couple of times, I’ve stopped buying songs on iTunes. Their loss.

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