DRM-Free Doesn't Mean Copyright-Free

from the everybody's-doing-it dept

The death of audio DRM continues apace, as major book publishers begin following the lead of record labels and phasing out copy protection on audio versions of their books. It seems they’re learning what we (and a lot of other folks) have been saying for years: DRM doesn’t prevent piracy. All it does is annoy customers and limit the value of your products. One thing the New York Times gets wrong in the above story is the idea that these publishers are “abandoning copyright protections.” The Guardian made a similar error, saying that Penguin’s audiobooks would be “copyright-free.” But of course, DRM isn’t the same as copyright. Infringing copyright is just as illegal with DRM-free audio files as it is with copy protected files. This point may actually become a major headache for content companies. They’ve spent the last decade trying to conflate DRM with copyright. This was always misleading, but a lot of people bought it. Now that they’re changing their minds and abandoning DRM, they’re going to have to spend a lot of time explaining that DRM-free music is still copyrighted, and pirating it is still illegal.

The other interesting question is when content producers in other content industries will start paying attention to the no-DRM trend in the audio market and move towards phasing out DRM for themselves too. We’re rapidly approaching the point where almost every major audio firm offers their content in downloadable, DRM-free formats. (Of course, they’ve always sold content in the DRM-free CD format) But at the same time, the Kindle was launched just last year with DRM restrictions, and Hollywood has stubbornly clung to DRM for its high-definition video products, despite the fact that that hasn’t worked either. How bad do things have to get before these guys start paying attention?

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Comments on “DRM-Free Doesn't Mean Copyright-Free”

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22 Comments
Dan G says:

Re: Re:

I have a lot of respect for Stardock (the makers of Sins of a Solar Empire). They don’t hamper their products with annoying DRM, and instead protect themselves by releasing frequent updates with meaningful content that you get by registering on their site. Granted, it’s still possible to get the updates if you don’t have an account, but it’s a lot more work to stay up to date.

They also make fun games. That’s important too.

Matt Bennett says:

In only semi-related news, I’ve decided it’s time to be annoyed with copanies who DON’T make their PC games available via download. Most recently Daw of War:Soulstorm, an RTS I was pretty thrilled about, is not availabe online. Man, I’m messy, I can’t be bothered to keep physical discs around, nor to switch them in and out of my drive.

Douglas Gresham (profile) says:

While I’m not pro-DRM in any form, software is a different ball game to traditional media. It’s completely implausible to create workable DRM for music; by making, say, a game dependent on external resources you control (eg a game server, an online auth system ala Steam, etc) you make it much harder for people to play unauthorised. I’m fairly sure that Steam in particular is effective at cutting piracy (if someone could point me at some stats I’d appreciate it), although there’s also games aren’t available on P2P first, easy to get, maintaining patches – ie they’re offering a better product.

Overcast says:

Just bought a book after reading some of it on Google books the other day.

I bought something that was ‘free’ – because in my opinion, the hard copy of the book offered more VALUE than just reading it on the web. I can relax and read it anywhere, rather than staring at a screen.

These companies could gain a lot of ground by releasing lesser quality copies of the media/software for FREE themselves.

They could release a game that lacks in game music, scales down graphics, restricts online play, and on…

Giving people a taste of the game, yet leaving more to be desired by buying the full version. This would put a crimp in the ‘hacker’ market, as people wouldn’t be looking for ‘cracked’ games – they could just download a more ‘limited’ version for free. If they choose to go with the ‘lesser’ product – so be it.

Kinda like the difference between radio and buying the music prior to the ‘web’.

Sure – you could always listen to music for free on the radio, and much of it, you would never buy. But obviously a LOT of people do buy the full copy.

If radio is successful in bringing new content to the ‘masses’ how much more so could the internet…. If the companies quit being so anal about it.

I guess the saying is true: The tighter they clinch their fist, the more sand slips through their fingers.

Michael Weinberg (user link) says:

The real question is what follows DRM? Random House announced that their decision to go DRM free was based in part on data collected (or not collected in this case) from watermarks in copies showing up on P2P networks. However, no one knows what kind of data is in the watermark, and it was not even clear before the fact that watermarks were going into the downloads. I certainly think that the movement away from DRM is an good one, but it is important to remember that there are still plenty of ways for content companies to handle this the wrong way. We have an analysis on our policy blog:
http://www.publicknowledge.org/node/1421

zcat says:

Interesting contrast...

http://diveintomark.org/archives/2007/11/19/the-future-of-reading
(found via boingboing)

When someone buys a book, they are also buying the right to resell that book, to loan it out, or to even give it away if they want. Everyone understands this.

Jeff Bezos, Open letter to Author’s Guild, 2002

You may not sell, rent, lease, distribute, broadcast, sublicense or otherwise assign any rights to the Digital Content or any portion of it to any third party, and you may not remove any proprietary notices or labels on the Digital Content. In addition, you may not, and you will not encourage, assist or authorize any other person to, bypass, modify, defeat or circumvent security features that protect the Digital Content.

Amazon, Kindle Terms of Service, 2007

DanC says:

Re: Interesting contrast...

Yep…the flagrant misuse of the DMCA to trample over user rights.

In this case, they are violating a customer’s right to transfer ownership of their product via encryption. They try to hide it saying that they’re only “licensing” a copy, and that you don’t really own the material.

The sad part is, depending on the court that a case winds up in determines whether the terms of these garbage eulas are enforced. There have been too many decisions one way or the other to determine what’s legal.

pv says:

Douglas Gresham:
“by making, say, a game dependent on external resources you control (eg a game server, an online auth system ala Steam, etc) you make it much harder for people to play unauthorised.”

My problem with that is that it kills the second hand market (part of the intention?). I also worry that its the first step of a move to ‘pay-per-play’.

Plus if your ninja gaming machine isn’t the one connected to the net its a pain, especially when amazon’s page for a product doesn’t mention that a web connection is essential (which is why I have a legit, retail copy of Half Life 2 that I’ve never been able to play).

nipseyrussell says:

good news!
a few years back i was excited to learn that the philadelphia library had put in place an audiobook download function from their website. i was all set to LEGALLY use their service. so….then i download one and find that the files can only (a) be played through some windows media player interface – thus NO ipod!!!, or (b) burned to CD.
well, since i had already spent the time to download a book, i burned 14 frigging disks so i could listen to it, then i promptly informed the library that they needed to switch to a vendor with a clue (um….if i burned it to disks, your scheme just made it piratable, you moron!!), and i then turned to the ILLEGAL but much more convenient methods of obtaining audiobooks. good job, jackasses

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