by Timothy Lee
Fri, Oct 5th 2007 5:18pm
A story about flaws in two new Blu-Ray discs illustrates an important problem with digital rights management technologies beyond the fundamental flaw of treating customers like criminals. Ordinary open standards are designed to be as easy to implement as possible, and when hardware or software in an open platform detects a possible error, it makes a good-faith effort to recover from it gracefully. As a result, if one manufacturer makes a minor mistake in implementing a standard, the other components can often adapt and prevent it from bringing the entire system to a halt. Digital rights management turns this attitude on its head. The fundamental goal of a DRM scheme is to prevent unauthorized devices from working properly, which means DRM providers are required to react to any discrepancy as evidence of hacking and refuse to work with it at all. That's how we get Blu-Ray players manufactured by well-known consumer electronics companies refusing to play legitimate Blu-Ray discs from well-known Hollywood studios. And this problem is only going to get worse as Hollywood pushes for ever-more-elaborate DRM formats. Every new layer of "security" features that are added to consumer electronics devices increases the cost and complexity of the devices, and more complexity means lower performance and more ways the system can break. As we've noted before, Windows Vista has a particularly severe case of DRM bloat, as Microsoft has added "security" features demanded by Hollywood at the cost of degrading the performance of the entire operating system. Needless to say, this is a lousy business strategy. It raises the costs of products, necessitates costly recalls/firmware updates when somebody screws up, and needlessly irritates customers. Oh, and have we mentioned that DRM doesn't stop piracy?
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