Mainstream Media Way Behind on DRM and DMCA

from the behind-by-a-decade dept

The Guardian is a great newspaper and produces a lot of good content. So I was excited to see that it had done a story on Apple, digital rights management, and the future of the music industry. And the piece does a good job of summarizing the problems created by DRM and the business case against using it. However, one thing I found kind of amazing was the part where it notes an industry study suggesting that digital rights management has no effect on “piracy” rates. The Guardian says: “The assertion is remarkable. If DRM does not in fact discourage piracy, then it is merely a nuisance for the user.” But of course the assertion isn’t “remarkable” at all. It’s a point people have been making for close to a decade. What’s remarkable is that it’s taken this long for the industry — and mainstream reporters — to figure out what a lot of us have been saying since the beginning.

But the even more annoying thing is that the article never mentions the DMCA (or its European equivalents). For example, it talks about the Microsoft PlaysForSure fiasco, and about the problems that users will have once Microsoft shuts off its “license servers.” What it doesn’t mention is that laws in the US, UK, and elsewhere make it illegal for third parties to offer software utilities to deal with the problems. That transforms the issue from an ordinary business blunder into a serious public policy issue. Microsoft has every right to shut down its license servers if it wants to. But consumers should have the freedom to download third-party software that would convert their PlaysForSure music libraries into an open format so they don’t have to put up with Microsoft’s arbitrary restrictions. So, for that matter, should customers of the iTunes store. But thanks to the DMCA, it’s illegal to use such tools, and a felony to “traffic” in them.

Unfortunately, while there’s been increasing coverage of the problems with DRM, there has continued to be little real discussion of the DMCA. Which is a real problem, because the millions of customers who made the mistake of purchasing DRMed music would really benefit from the freedom to use their legally-purchased music as they see fit. Indeed, a lot of them might be inclined to exert political pressure on Congress to change the law if they knew that the problem was largely Congress’s fault in the first place. But because press accounts of the issue don’t even mention the legal problems, most consumers assume it’s just a garden-variety technical glitch and the law doesn’t get changed.

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Comments on “Mainstream Media Way Behind on DRM and DMCA”

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PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“I find it unlikely most customers don’t know about the DMCA.”

If only we lived in your world, Blue.

Unfortunately, most consumers don’t understand anything about DRM, DMCA or anything like it. They barely understand DVD region codes. The tools that are available are produced outside the countries with these laws and the creators still face prosecution should they ever enter the US (e.g. Dmitry Sklyarov).

Thankfully, fiascos like PlaysForSure and Google Video are bringing this issue to wider attention. If only it hadn’t taken a decade for the industry to notice how bad this was and how doomed from the beginning…

Tim Lee (user link) says:

Re: Re:

Jake, that’s why I wrote “(or its European equivalents)” The 2001 EU copyright directive requires member states to enact laws like the DMCA, and most member states have complied. Moreover, since the article is about American companies, the DMCA is obviously relevant to the story regardless of where the story was written.

Jake says:

Re: Re: Re:

Tim: My apologies; I misread that part. However, I think they said everything they really needed to about the legal aspects when they mentioned the fact that DRM wasn’t really all that much use and everyone’s giving up on it. Besides, badly thought-out, contradictory legislation that nobody would have a clue how to enforce if they could be bothered to try has long ceased to be newsworthy in this country.

‘An American’; Actually, despite our current administration’s willing status as a satellite country of the United States and our tabloid press’s constant lobbying for us to mine the beaches and have anyone overstaying their visa by more than half an hour put in concentration camps, we are in fact signatories to all the relevant treaties.

Rekrul says:

I personally, don’t tend to assume customer ignorance. Or that most of the US population is dumb. I could be wrong though.

While most Americans may not be “dumb” in the literal sense of the word, when it comes to most modern technology, the average consumer is dumb as a post.

I’ve talked to at least three people in the recent past who had no idea what a DVD region code was and who wondered why the DVDs they got at Goodwill or other places wouldn’t play.

99% of the people you speak to will have no idea what Macrovision is, or why using a VCR to record a DVD usually doesn’t work.

I have a friend who thinks that downloading a movie off the internet is like recording it from cable. He can’t understand how some movies can be in DVD format but not others.

I knew a woman who bought a new Dell system because she thought it was going to be like a cell phone and that someone would just need to spend a few minutes explaining things and then she’d be able to use it. Of course she couldn’t even figure out how to change most of the settings on her cell phone, or work a digital camera…

I gave a bunch of movies in AVI format to someone who said he knew how to use computers. I even put all the software he’d need on the disc as well as some small readme files telling him what to do. When Windows didn’t automatically play the files properly, he and his wife were lost.

I had someone tell me that her boyfriend had some games that they could play on his “DVD player”. Turns out that it’s a Playstation!

You may find more tech-savvy users on sites like this, but in general, most people don’t seem to have a clue.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

I’m a twentysomething who interacts with other twentysomethings, and a good number of them — tech-savvy or otherwise — don’t recognize that a big part of our problem is the DMCA. Maybe you’re just lucky to be surrounded with like-minded individuals, but it’s hardly a representative population.

Freedom says:

License Servers = Class Action Law Suit...

I’m personally waiting for the first class action law suit to be filed on this stuff. The thought of needing to have activation/license servers from now till the end of time to get access to your purchased content is a business plan that I don’t think any one ever really thought out.

In the end, a bunch of expensive lawsuits will sort this out, but if companies insist on using license and/or activation servers to allow access to content and/or programs then the companies have to provide a way to permentantly unlock these files if the servers go offline.

Should be interesting to see what happens when Microsoft decides to turn off the XP and/or Office Activation Servers. I’m sure 15 years from now there will still be someone that is legally entitled to run XP and/or Office 200x, but won’t be able to because Microsoft disabled their servers.

If this DRM/Activation is here to stay, we need a bill of rights type document to ensure that content is available and that companies properly fund ongoing activations/licenses even when the revenue stream no longer justifies it. Maybe then when the full true cost of this stuff is put on the table, companies that want to use it will start to re-think it. (Activation/License call center for 100 years, on-going server up-keep, maintenance and requirement to have re-activations within 24 hours or face stiff penalities type of thing. Costly migration for protected to unprotected content.)


P.S. Who knows, maybe Microsoft has already put in a date/time switch to deactivate activation … hmmmm…

zcat says:

> Should be interesting to see what happens when Microsoft
> decides to turn off the XP and/or Office Activation
> Servers. I’m sure 15 years from now there will still be
> someone that is legally entitled to run XP and/or Office
> 200x, but won’t be able to because Microsoft disabled
> their servers.

Nobody is “legally entitled” to run any Microsoft products, now or in the future, beyond the first 90 days. If it happens to still run after that time (and I’ve been told sometimes Windows can go more than three months without needing a reinstall) consider it a bonus. Haven’t you read your EULA?

“Microsoft warrants that the Software will perform
substantially in accordance with the accompanying
materials for a period of ninety (90) days from the date
of receipt. If an implied warranty or condition is created
by your state /jurisdiction and federal or
state/provincial law prohibits disclaimer of it, you also
have an implied warranty or condition, BUT ONLY AS TO

They could well argue that you don’t even get the 90 days, since ‘product activation’ is a feature described elsewhere in the EULA, and not a defect at all.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I’m pretty sure they’re using the legal notion of “warrenty” there. Ninty days is a typical warrenty period, and may be legally mandated — I don’t know, I am not a lawyer. This isn’t to imply that you have no legal right to continue to enjoy your purchaced product after 90 days, just that MS isn’t liable when it breaks.

My Windows machines tend to go 18 to 24 months without needing a reinstall; maybe longer, but I tend to replace the hardware significantly (ie, new mobo & processor) after that point.

Rekrul says:

Honestly, that’s not my experience. In my experience people tend to know plenty about technical stuff. Then again I’m a 20 year old who mostly interacts with other people about my age

Talk to some people in their 40s and 50s about computers and technology. I’ve even met some people in their 20s who were clueless. In fact, some of the most tech-savvy people I know are older ones who were into computers back in the C64/DOS days, where you had to learn how to do things manually if you wanted to use a computer. Today, MS teaches you that things will either work automatically, or you double-click the mouse. Anything beyond that and most people don’t know what to do.

Here’s a test for “experienced” computer users; When they’re not around, go into the Windows directory and rename “Desktop” to “Desk-top” and rename “Start Menu” to “Start-Menu” so Windows can’t find them. I’ll bet you $50 that at least half of them would end up taking it to some sort of computer repair store to have it “fixed”. Either that, or they’ll do a complete system restore to the factory defaults, since the computer is obviously “unusable” in its present condition.

In the end, a bunch of expensive lawsuits will sort this out, but if companies insist on using license and/or activation servers to allow access to content and/or programs then the companies have to provide a way to permentantly unlock these files if the servers go offline.

According to most EULAs, the software doesn’t even have to work on the day you buy it. They usually guarantee the media it comes on, but the software is provided as-is.

Rekrul says:

I’ve talked to at least three people in the recent past…

Oh, well that proves it then.

Yes, it proves that it isn’t the lest bit hard to find technically clueless people. They happen to make up the bulk of consumers.

Why don’t you do your own survey of [i]AVERAGE[/i] DVD owners and ask them if they know what region codes or Macrovision are. Ask your parents, grandparents, etc.

I’ll be awaiting your post with the results.

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