Kitchens Sync

Piracy Is the Problem, but DRM Is Not the Solution

- 2009.02.04 - Tip Jar

At the Macworld Expo, Apple announced that the iTunes Store would soon cease selling music encumbered by DRM (digital rights management). This is good for multiple reasons, among which are better file quality, freedom of use for your music, and lessened reliance on Apple's activation servers.

The best thing about Apple loosening its grip on our music is that we will finally have control over what we do with our files.

Of course, this does not mean that one is free to upload songs to a file sharing service. While technically possible, the iTunes Store still embeds your Apple ID into every file. This discourages piracy while allowing honest users to do what they want with their purchases.

DRM Doesn't Work

Let's face it, DRM doesn't work. I'll say it again: DRM does not work. Even though Apple has tried its very best to keep people from removing the DRM from content purchased through the iTunes Store, it hasn't work.

One of the earliest projects, hymn (Hear Your Music aNywhere), allowed users to authorize an imaginary computer and download the decryption keys for their songs. Apple did manage to break this solution, but now users can use Requiem to do the same thing: it even works on non-HD videos. It's only a matter of time until that limitation is broken as well. In this case, Apple has gotten nasty and tried to use the DMCA (don't even get me started on that) to kill Requiem. Unfortunately for them, it's just gone underground. Every time Apple breaks or brings the law down on a solution, it either changes to compensate or is replaced by a functional alternative.

As I see it, DRM is a dying technology. Things like fancy encryption schemes, complex product keys, and activation servers simply don't do anything to combat piracy. Inevitably, encryption is broken. Inexorably, product keys' algorithms are deciphered and key generators are written. Inescapably, activation processes are spoofed or disabled. It is almost impossible to find popular software that can't be easily pirated and safely used without loss of functionality.

So what would draw users to pay for content when it is so freely available for anonymous download? Certainly not DRM. The complex rigmarole DRM introduces only angers honest, law-abiding users. I often wonder whether consumers actually have any "digital rights" through DRM. It seems to me that we are only being managed.

Corporations are apparently unaware that new copy-protection schemes serve as nothing but a challenge to the proficient and prolific hackers of our age. No matter what new "unbreakable" protection scheme they come up with, it is always broken. Also, many people who pirate media and software are not doing it because they're trying to save money - they wouldn't spend the money on the goods if they had it. Much of the time the company hasn't lost any sales, because the potential to make a sale never existed in the first place.

The Problem Is Piracy

Of course, piracy in any form and scope is still unethical and illegal, but it's probably not as monetarily damaging as many companies make it out to be.

On the flip side, companies might take pride in the fact that their software is good enough that someone would spend their time finding ways around the safeguards. Nobody is going to waste work on some two-bit piece of junk.

That's why Apple needs to negotiate with its TV show and movie suppliers for additional non-DRM content in the catalog. If I am going to spend as much on a season pass as a DVD box set costs on Amazon.com, I want to do more than watch it on the handy list of devices that Big Brother approves of. I should be able to burn my own DVDs, not just for backup, but also for watching on standard home players. One shouldn't have to purchase an Apple TV in order to watch media files on a larger screen.

Additionally, if I decide I would like to play my content on a non-Apple device, I should have that right. As much as I love Apple and the iPod, I realize that there are those who cannot afford or are unwilling to use one. If you free up the content, they might be choose to buy from you. Otherwise, you're not making any money from them.

All of this aside, I do understand placing encryption on movie rentals. Apple does need some manner of controlling the temporarily stored files. Otherwise one could simply pull the unprotected stream out of the file, allowing them to get a discount on every movie they "purchase."

The removal of DRM from iTunes music is a good step forward. I hope Apple will see the light and lead the industry out of the Dark Ages of DRM. LEM

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