One More Time: DRM Doesn't Enable Anything, Except User Frustration

from the doublespeak dept

DRM developers and supporters are constantly saying that DRM “enables” new business models, services and applications — and it’s hogwash. The DRM itself doesn’t enable anything. It merely deludes backwards-thinking content owners that it makes it “safe” to try new things, but DRM doesn’t enable any innovation; really, it serves as a barrier to it. Still, a Microsoft exec takes the party line in an interview about the company’s latest DRM scheme for mobile and portable devices (you know, the one that sounds pretty much like their earlier efforts), saying that it is about ” enabling digital goods and commerce between consumers and operators.” No, it’s about locking content down. What enables digital goods and commerce are a network connection and a device. Acting like DRM is an integral part of content distribution or payment is a joke, as any of the things that the guy talks about — such as superdistribution or content bundling — are certainly possible without the DRM. It appears the big selling point of the PlayReady copy-protection technology is this idea of “domains”, which MS says will allow content providers to license content to a group of devices a user owns, rather than just a single one. That’s great and all, but it also means the content providers can choose not to license content to particular devices a user owns, so it really does little to erase the headaches that these pointless restrictions create for legitimate consumers. That’s all DRM really enables: continued consumer frustration.

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Comments on “One More Time: DRM Doesn't Enable Anything, Except User Frustration”

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Joe Smith says:


Microsoft is chasing the wrong opportunity.

The real opportunity is secure micro payments (less than $5.00). Microsoft is one of a handful of companies which would have had a leg up on pursuing that market and they never even tried. DRM is all about Microsoft helping people who are not its customers make money from selling content. Where is the payoff for Microsoft in that? A solid lockdown of DRM built into Windows will reduce the demand for Windows.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Opportunity

The solid lockdown of DRM would only reduce demand for Windows in the demographic of people that would actually know the difference. MS would only go with such a lockdown at this point because they think they are in a comfortable position to do so. And by comfortable position I mean MS products dominate the computer market. MS and the DRM providers would hope that the mindless masses will take the lockdown for the sake of having a familiar and well-known brand.

Problem is brand name alone won’t sell a product. PS3, Zune, Blu-Ray technology. We’ve seen time and time again how a company thinks just because they have a good rep they can just sell any crap product and make a killing on it.

Wizard Prang (user link) says:

Re: Re: Just say N-O to D-R-M

The solid lockdown of DRM would only reduce demand for Windows in the demographic of people that would actually know the difference.

Most users don’t know and don’t care.

I had a beta of Vista on one of my machines. Two damned slow and no new killer functionality. Sad to see most people buy into the marketing hype and are easily impressed by cosmetic UI improvements.

I am still advising people who are thinking of buying new machines to stick with XP for now… it took them two years to get it half right (SP2), and I see no reason to believe that anything has changed with Vista.

As for me, I choose to stick with Windows 2000 at home. As for the future, I’m playing with (Ubuntu) Linux and am very impressed.

James says:

DRM an acronym for VERY LAME

Selling music as unprotected MP3s seems like a smart move that would promote growth. It may be risky… when all music is unprotected, and some company goes on to invent a wi-fi mp3 player that actually can shares files (sorry Zune), but, this could be done now. One person buys a CD, rips it to MP3, and shares w/all his/her buddies… done. No DRM, and much less revenue for the artist.

Is that bad? Well, if it cuts off the revenue stream and new music, I’d say yes, and encouraging folks to produce music by getting properly paid needs to be taken into consideration in any argument on this topic.

I generally think the main 2 reasons to really hate DRM is the fact that it makes legitimate customers feel like crooks and it artificially drives up the price of the content.

My theory is… if the RIAA released all music w/o copy protection in high-quality, and, created a subscription service that was inexpensive enough where same could be purchased from, they would see more revenue than they could possibly imagine.

Sanguine Dream says:

Re: DRM an acronym for VERY LAME

I guess this is my day for “Re:” comments.

I agree that the RIAA had the golden opportunity to lead the way in digital distribution. And despite the way they have treated customers they could change their ways and win back the faith of customers.

However it is very clear that “protecting artists” and “selling valuable content to customers” is not the aim of the RIAA. The RIAA is out to make money just like any other business. And with the advent of digital distribution they are faced with two choices, adapt or die. Problem is they call themselves clever by “creating” a third option which is to insure they will not die and prevent the necesity to adapt.

DRM Hater says:

They Just Don't Get It

I refuse to buy any product that has built in DRM. I am still using tape decks and VCRs at home. I record movies from analog and I convert tape deck radio ripped music to mp3 and guess what record companies? I do not share anything. If they ran their business like allofmp3 and stopped this confrontational way to conduct a backward way of doing business, they would sell much more and make much more. We all know that this is just a pipe dream. Arrogance is stupidity most of the time.

Don Gray says:

Re: Re:

When distribution costs approach zero and any amount charged = profit, why on earth would anyone perpetuate the idea of “renting” digital content?

The entire renting model is built around a limited resource being used multiple times by multiple parties over the life of the resource.

If I as the content owner can provided unlimited copies at little to no cost what’s the point?

I agree with others that if the recording companies represented by the RIAA would try distributing non-DRM’d content they would make such obscene amounts of money that they would never look back.

Frankly, I can’t understand why they haven’t tried it. They distribue tons of non-DRM’d content today through CDs.

Buzz (profile) says:


James has the right idea. They just need to offer the music at a relatively low rate to where people no longer feel the need to pirate music. Part of the reason piracy became big was people felt it was OK due to the fact that the ‘original’ is left unscathed. In our minds, we only mark something as a crime if we somehow removed or damaged the original piece. With file-sharing, an exact replica is made and handed off to someone else.

Another big problem with DRM (which I haven’t seen anyone else address quite yet) is that it’s way too late. If DRM were around from the beginning (oh Heaven help us) then it might have served its purpose in restricting file-duplication. However, since MP3s are already hot in circulation (and good hackers can form MP3s from DRM-protected files anyway), DRM doesn’t have a prayer.

Hulser says:

Not that I’m defending DRM, but I interpret the “DRM enables new business models” not from a technological, but from a pychological perspective. Specifically, DRM does nothing to facilitate the moving of bits from one location to another, but it may make more record industry weasels feel secure enough to sign contracts with more digital distribution companies. So, in a warped way, DRM does enable new business models. It’s just that what is being overcome is a fear of deviating too far away from the current business model instead of some technological hurdle.

Anonymous coward says:

DRM, another stupid initiative

Let’s face what DRM really is: protectionism

I stopped buying DRM media as long time and instead I download illegally. It’s not because I want to save money, it’s simply because DRM lacks the flexibility I need in a DivX or MP3 format. Since when do the content distribution companies tell us how we can consume that content?

Fed Up says:

Digital Revenue Management

Keep in mind that the RIAA is to affiliated with any particular record company, and the money that they get does *NOT* go to the artists. Actually, music sales in general do nothing for an artist’s bottom line.

Hmmm, the RIAA saying that piracy is hurting the artists rings very similar to Bush “convincing” the American public that Saddam was responsible for 9/11. If you say it enough times, it has to be true!

Jon Healey (user link) says:


“Rental” isn’t the right term. DRM on subscription downloads, like conditional access systems on cable TV, lets people pay for access to music instead of buying copies of the songs themselves. That, I think, is legitimately enabling a new business model for music consumption. Some people think it’s pointless, but others (especially people who like to listen to lots of music on demand but don’t want to own it all) think it’s a great value.
Extending the analogy, isn’t conditional access on digital cable systems and satellite TV another form of DRM? And doesn’t that enable the whole business of cable networks (i.e., TV that’s not broadcast)?
Clearly, not all uses of DRM fit into the enabling category, but IMHO it’s not right to say that none do.

Frumious B says:

Re: Re:

Here here Jon. I’d really like to understand how the “DRM unsafe at any speed” crowd explains why I like subscription services.

I’m as frustrated as the next guy at poor DRM implementations that don’t let me do what I want with the media I buy. I hate rootkits. I don’t appreciate being treated like a criminal. Yes yes yes.

But I gotta tell you — I also subscribe to Urge. All-you-can eat downloads and listening across a broad catalog. And…I love it. I listen to a ton of new music all the time, far more than I would ever buy. If someone went into business selling un-protected tracks from the same catalog, I’d just keep paying my subscription. Seems like some limitations are required on the music I download on subscription, or the service becomes identical to selling all the meida I can download at nine bucks a month, which I don’t think is a good model for media producers.

Now I fully expect someone to do some jedi mind trick on me whispering “economics of scarcity” and “zero marginal replication costs” and “these aren’t the droids you’re looking for” but I don’t buy it. There should be a way to convince me that DRM is worthless without first needing to convince me charging for copies/distribution is fundamentally bonkers.

And don’t trot out the tired “dude, you’re not paying the artists, you’re paying the fat cat production cartels…” Feh; like I care. I’m fine paying Attilla the Hun — just as long as he keeps my music coming. If artists I like can find a better deal, best of luck but frankly that’s their problem not mine.

So is it possible to offer all-you-can eat without DRM? How would that work? How else do you deter cheaters? Or do you need to convince me I don’t know what’s good for me — that the 10 bucks a month I spend is misguided and doesn’t make me nearly as happy as I think it does?

If you take away DRM, don’t you take away my subscription service, rendering me less happy than I was before the whole mess started?

John Noble says:


> What enables digital goods and commerce are a network connection and a
> device. Acting like DRM is an integral part of content distribution or
> payment is a joke, as any of the things that the guy talks about — such as
> superdistribution or content bundling — are certainly possible without the

What produces digital goods and commerce, generally, is the opportunity to profit. DRM is wholly ineffectual unless content is priced to reflect only the limited, inelastic values of the convenience and reliability of authorized access to authentic and complete catalogs. It cannot capture the values assigned to audio-visual integrity and artistic merit that the authorized market would capture if it could keep. But those values are there and don’t disappear. They are bundled and blended into an amalgram comprised of integral parts — undifferentiated content, a network connection, and a device — and captured in the pricing of network access and terminal equipment because price-setting power is maintained by network effects and high entry costs.

The inability to protect the market value of content independently has created a need, or at least an incentive, to bundle content with distribution, or with terminal equipment, either at the retail/product-distribution level (iTunes) or, more disturbingly, at the wholesale/corporate-combination level (AOL-Time Warner-HBO-New Line Cinema-Rhino Records-CNN-Book-of-the-Month-Club-CompuServe-Netscape-This Old House-MapQuest-Little Brown & Co.-Looney Tunes-Time Magazine-Viacom-Atlanta Braves …, Ltd?)

I’m not saying that effective DRM would guaranty the independence of content providers, but it would allow for the possibility.

John Noble

Anonymous Coward says:

It enables...

The use of the word “enable” with DRM says to me that media providers are not interested in the viewpoint of their customers. They are not focused on what the customer wants to buy; they are focused on what they are willing to sell. It is only from this perspective that DRM enables anything, as in “DRM enables me to feel protected enough to sell my product to this collection of potential thieves that I have to call customers.” Only from this point of view can “DRM” and “enable” be used in the same sentence.

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