Sleight Of Hand: If We Don't Call It DRM, We Can Pretend That DRM Is Gone

from the poof dept

I was upset that I had to miss the FTC's workshop on DRM earlier this week. I had been invited to speak at the event, but had already committed to speaking at the Leadership Music Digital Summit in Nashville, so had to decline. But, from the writeups about the event, it's quite clear that many in the content industry still believe DRM is a good idea (or, rather a "necessary" idea), despite the fact that it doesn't work. DRM, despite what they might say, does not "enable new business models" at all. It simply gives the content holders the illusion that they can somehow control the content. But, it never stops any copying at all. So, it actually tends to just annoy those who are trying to legitimately purchase and/or access the content. Because those who are going to access it in an unauthorized manner will do so separately.

That said, a bunch of folks have sent in a series of stories this week that are somewhat amusing. Basically, it seems that video game companies have decided to stop calling DRM "DRM." This follows a series of horrific PR nightmares, where firms made use of DRM in ways that significantly limited the value of certain games, and players (or potential customers) of those games struck back in trashing those gaming companies for treating them as criminals. So, now, we have stories about Valve launching a new DRM that "makes DRM obsolete" even though it's still DRM. Then there's EA -- who received the biggest brunt of consumer backlash for its DRM choices. It's releasing the new Sims "without DRM methods that feel overly invasive." But, of course, it will still have DRM.

It's really difficult to understand what these execs think they're doing that benefits them in any way. It's not about enabling new business models. Any business model they're talking about can work just fine without DRM. It's not about "keeping honest people honest," because you don't have to keep honest people honest -- that's why they're honest. It's not about stopping unauthorized file sharing or "piracy," because no DRM has yet been shown to do that at all. It's not about "slowing down" unauthorized file sharing, because once an unauthorized copy is out there, it gets pretty quickly copied everywhere. One copy is all it takes and then nothing is "slowed down" at all. The only thing DRM serves to do is get in the way of legitimate customers trying to do what they want with content they thought they had legally purchased. In other words, it destroys value for legitimate customers -- and it's difficult to see any business rationale where that's an intelligent move.

Filed Under: business models, drm
Companies: ea, ftc

Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread

  1. identicon
    Peter, 27 Mar 2009 @ 6:54pm

    Used Sales, the next great enemy

    It will keep honest folks from engaging in the heinous practice of buying/selling their used games.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Lucretious, 27 Mar 2009 @ 7:00pm

    sounds like their own take on watermarking.

    To be honest, I think this is simply Gabe Newells bid to pacify upper management at the various publishers they do business with.

    He knows more than anyone the futility of trying to stop piracy.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    jonnyq, 27 Mar 2009 @ 7:02pm


    The more I've seen about Steam's new DRM, the less I seem to understand. So each consumer gets his own personal binary. What difference does that make? Sounds like, for offline games, you could still share that binary. So the personal binary is authenticated when you log in online? How is that different from the current system, except now prevents you from using your friend's CD to reinstall a game for an online account that you paid for... you now have to redownload your personal binary.

    Am I missing something?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Greg, 27 Mar 2009 @ 7:12pm

    Valve is a good service

    I have an account with steam and many games. I'm downloading Far Cry 2 as we speak. EA's DRM upset me. primarily becuase of the 2 or 3 install limit. Valve allows you to install your game on as many machines as you like and play on any one of them when you like. When I get a new computer or reinstall windows all I have to do is download steam which will install all of my games. Steam is very convenient actually. Don't trash em.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    g32, 27 Mar 2009 @ 7:18pm

    Re: Valve is a good service

    Valve/Steam is a good service until it goes down. Like today, it went down from 4:15 to 5:45, not letting me play left 4 dead until the servers were back up.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Jesse, 27 Mar 2009 @ 7:40pm

    The whole concept of "keeping honest people honest" is a bit strange. The general idea is that, in the absence of DRM, people might inadvertently and unknowingly break the law in their everyday usage of the product.

    The "keeping honest people honest" only highlights that copyright is no longer intuitive enough for the average honest individual to follow. I think it is fairly intuitive to most people that stealing from another person is wrong; on the other hand, the numerous examples of far reaching copyright are far from intuitive and have left many people questioning why these rules are necessary in the first place. For example, why shouldn't I be allowed to register all members of my household for a game (Spore), and why do I have to pay 300 dollars (for Windows) for each computer in my house?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    DittoBox, 27 Mar 2009 @ 7:44pm

    Re: Valve is a good service

    Except those EA games that are on Steam still use SecueROM.

    Steam is nice sometimes, but half the time I can barely download purchases. The speed is killer sometimes.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. icon
    KGWagner (profile), 27 Mar 2009 @ 10:23pm

    Real Culprits

    I'm beginning to wonder if the proliferation and/or persistence of DRM isn't due to the profound stupidity of the media and software executives so much as it's just a numbers game the DRM solution providers find easy to play.

    If an ISV believes their product can bring them $5M if everyone who wants it buys it, and they're convinced that once it's out 30% of the users will "steal" it, that means they can afford to spend $1.5M on DRM in the hope that those "criminals" will be thwarted.

    Now, if I'm a DRM provider, I can say I'll sell them a license to use my unbreakable disk condom for $500K. That means Mr. Media Executive will make $1M more than he otherwise would have, and would be a fool to not buy and use it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Jfed, 27 Mar 2009 @ 11:25pm

    Securom's the bugbear.

    - EA exec Rod Humble has stated that TS3 will not use online authentication nor limited installs. He said nothing about Securom whatsoever. But -
    - EA employees have repeatedly posted on the official TS2 site that Securom will not be used on game disks.
    - Currently, the EA Download Manager (digital distro program) will install Securom to 'protect' digitally downloaded games and items purchased from the TS2Store.
    - Currently, when preordering TS3 one is presented w/a statement saying the game uses Securom.
    - Currently, the EULA for TS3 at states that all updates to TS3 will require installation of the EADM software, which currently installs Securom. Also -
    - that same EULA describes ingame advertising and info collection that will be enabled in TS3, which a game producer had stated some weeks ago was not going to be used.

    Only the statement that disks will not include Securom surprised me as a longtime TS2 player. Combined with the rest, as of right now, it's just the usual 'hey! now we're treating you 10% less crappily than we did yesterday!' type of foot-dragging we've unfortunately come to expect from EA regarding their DRM.

    [Kind of reminds me of their withdrawl of the 'authenticate every 10 days or your game stops working' hooraw with their release last year, Mass Effect for PC - oh look! we're being benevolent! now you're just stuck with online auth only and 3 lonely activation limits you won't know you're using up until we tell you to buy another copy of the game! see? we DO care! kind of...]

    Who knows what the EULAs, etc. for TS3 will say tomorrow; lucid communication from EA is not currently a strong point. But EA quite lucidly trumpeted the fact that The Sims sold over 100 million copies around this time in 2007, just prior to introducing Securom v7 as their DRM of choice.

    100 million copies sold, and hence, BOUGHT, using nothing but a confined disk check and anticopy.

    Securom and the problems it caused (and continues to cause) in that game community - and the unconsionable do-nothing response from EA - destroyed trust and brand loyalty for a whole lot of formerly devoted players like me (and sent a bunch of them over to an interesting new place some call the 'dark side' to avoid those problems). EA's continued use of proven problematic DRM is the sole barrier to purchase for this ex-customer. I'm too lazy to pirate (and I don't want to anyway), but it's all the same, they don't get my money anymore.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    Albert, 27 Mar 2009 @ 11:32pm


    So true and obvious still amazing they do not get it!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    Felix Pleșoianu, 28 Mar 2009 @ 12:17am

    Re: True

    That's because we've been conditioned to think there is such a thing as 'control'. There isn't. In fact, the more control you try to exert, the less you'll actually have. I wrote those words a long time ago, and I'm still quoting myself a lot.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Mar 2009 @ 1:09am

    To Felix: I'm posting this here, in reference to the post you linked , because i could not get past the security code on your site (just drop it):


    I'm thinking of joining the atom police - where do I sign up?

    by the way, on the same subject, did you see this:

    I'm reading the pdf now and the guy makes the same point in a very interesting way.

    The amazing thing is that you would expect your artist friends to embrace freedom as an ideal and a way of life, because who needs freedom more than a true artist?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    Keith, 28 Mar 2009 @ 6:57am

    They are not making a business decision Mike...

    they are making an emotional one.

    The fact that these Businesses/CEO's/Leaders keep insisting on DRM is clearly not a fact based policy, it is an emotional one.

    It's the old "Cut off your nose to spite your face" -- these people are so consumed with anger and fear that someone, somehow, is 'getting a free ride' or ... 'taking advantage' of them that they are willing to act irrationally and ultimately self defeating to try and prevent it.

    So, its really not that hard to understand why they are doing it. Emotional responses are rarely logical. But it is hard to rationalize how presumably sane, successful, talented individuals can fall into this trap. Peer pressure maybe?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Mar 2009 @ 7:18am

    Re: Re: Valve is a good service

    You can always start it in offline mode. Of course, you can't play against anyone else, but you still have access to your games. It's not the best of all possible worlds, but it's better than most, especially considering some of the great deals they've been having on games lately.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
    Azrael, 28 Mar 2009 @ 10:52am


    why do I have to pay 300 dollars (for Windows) for each computer in my house?

    Probably because you either don't know how to (easily) find a pirate copy of Windows or don't know that almost any Linux distro is as good(if not even better) than Vista.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. identicon
    Weird Harold, 28 Mar 2009 @ 4:39pm

    Re: Re:

    You don't. last copy I bought for an install the other day was about $75 canadian (windows XP home). If you are going to be irate, at least be accurate.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Mar 2009 @ 7:31pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    "If you are going to be irate, at least be accurate."

    Maybe he bought the superduper professional version

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Mar 2009 @ 7:35pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    Where did you get XP Home for $75 Canadian($60 US)? Even on Newegg XP Home OEM is $90 US and that has to be bought with hardware for it to be legal.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Mar 2009 @ 11:51pm

    To bad we can't get rid of the stupid people that cause drm, inflation, unions, lawyers, communists, democrats. If people would just refuse to buy the crap they never owned, refused to pay more than something was worth last month, trying to form gangs to extort money from the providers of their lively hoods, take from society and never contribute, steal power for them while fucking their kids, fisting their first borns, etc this crap would go away.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. identicon
    Overcast, 29 Mar 2009 @ 6:00am

    They are taking pointers from Congress now I see.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Mar 2009 @ 7:47am

    Post #19


    Do they allow internet access from mental institutions?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22. identicon
    jjray, 29 Mar 2009 @ 12:59pm


    I agree with the sentiment of your article Mike but I think the industry executives believe DRM is in their best interest for a reason completely different than file sharing. When individuals lacked the ability to make copies of music they purchased, you the consumer had to buy a new album when the vinyl wore out or one of your drunk buddies sat on it or it got scratched, etc. I can't tell how many times I bought the Beatles white album. Not so in the digital age. All your music is stored electronically so you just burn a new disk when one of your disks is damaged. And that has always pissed off the industry. They think they have the right to require you to purchase the same movie, album, video game over and over again. That is what DRM is all about IMHO.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23. identicon
    R. Miles, 30 Mar 2009 @ 7:24am

    Doesn't DRM circumvent legal copying?

    Someone feel free to educate me on this, but I'm pretty sure I'm allowed to make as many copies of software I want so long as one, and only one, instance of the software is running at a time.

    In addition, I'm also allowed to create one backup copy of the software I've purchased.

    So how does DRM not constitute an illegal attempt at my rights as a consumer?

    Not that it matters, as I no longer purchase software with DRM on it. I simply find an open source version of it or do without.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24. identicon
    Phillip Vector, 30 Mar 2009 @ 8:34am


    Kind of...

    The only thing you are missing is that the binary is tied to the machine. Move it to a different machine (or reinstall the OS) and it then has to "Validate" via the steam servers that you own it.

    So, you COULD go into offline mode, copy the binary, take it to your friends house, log on from there and validate it, then move it to offline mode so your friend can play it whenever.

    Except every time steam starts, it assumes online mode. So it won't revalidate unless you give your friend your login and password. But then, you can't play when he logs in as you.. :)

    So.. It's pretty effective at stopping it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25. identicon
    Brandon, 30 Mar 2009 @ 10:34am


    I'm really glad I don't have to buy a new CD every time I want to play it in a different CD player. That's what the RIAA wants you to do with digital music, and what game publishers want you to do with games.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26. identicon
    E, 30 Mar 2009 @ 12:17pm

    Steam & Valve's DRM

    Valve's claim that their new form of authentication isn't DRM just seems like semantics, but I think it's fair to say that Valve has a good thing going. Steam isn't perfect, but requiring users to go through Steam to play makes piracy much more difficult, AND degrades the value of piracy. A pirated copy is crippled in what it can do (rather than the other way around, as is often the case), and I think that this does effectively slow down piracy for Valve games. Plus, they've stuck with a simple CD-key system, which isn't particularly inconvenient, and I've never had a problem getting from inserting the DVD to playing the game with very little time and effort (except when I installed almost every game on the Orange Box. Still little effort, but a LOT of time).
    I don't think there's anything wrong with a little bit of authentication, and Valve has done pretty well so far, so I have high hopes that their new system will be equally unobtrusive. I think it's a bit unfair to lump their efforts into the same group as EA's draconian DRM schemes.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Apr 2009 @ 12:14pm

    "Yes, let's allow gay marriage but we'll just call you "Butt Buddies". You won't be married, you'll be "Butt Buddies"."

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28. identicon
    Anonymous 2, 17 Apr 2009 @ 6:49am

    Steam Valve no good

    The fact that the government is beginning to look at this issues, clearly tells all. Forcing someone into open an account and then after the victim spends hundreds or thousands in game and add-on's , have it ban and lose all the games over insignificant issues, is nothing but a scam. The same person needs to shove a hefty price again for another account. I was laugh ting while I read reports of people being banned because they used a "legal levitation gun too much during game play". How arrogant. And about preventing "piracy of games". The pentagon couldn't stop that, nor our Alamo National Labs. When the technology Steam Valve uses has been there for at least 10 yrs. before ANY company can get it certified and approved for public sales. Steam is nothing but a big scam. They sell your info. and computer readings , most likely. And they cancel you at will. With no excuse or notification. And they hacking their accounts. Hey, hackers hack the security company's that secure the place. Just to Witt. Whoever is in favor of them, has to be an employee or affiliate somehow. I agree on some sort of DRM, to validate the copy. But NOT a forced account into a "COLLUSION". Vast to say Steam Valve is a total collusion when it forcefully strips consumers of all it's consumers rights. But , that will be until they find out that a judge can out rule their forced agreement. specially ,in a Pro-se court case. Finally, copies are usually made or facilitated thru insiders before a game comes out or by the time its released. That's how copies of steam monopoly games, are pirated without Steam valve forced accounts. Thanks. And sorry for the long article.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter

Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)


Add A Reply

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter

Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt
Techdirt Gear
Shop Now: Techdirt Logo Gear
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads


Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.