Sneaky DRM

If you browse any of the major technology websites of today, you probably notice a recurring theme among the users. If you look closely you will see that most of the people who frequent several technology sites have a mad hate for Digital Rights Management (DRM for short). Digital Rights Management is the technology employed by Apple and other online content retailers to limit the illegal copying of purchased digital content. For example, a song purchased off of Apple’s iTunes Store can only be authorized to play on five computers and can only be burned to CD a handful of times before it can not be burned anymore. The idea behind DRM is to prevent folks from putting the files on a file sharing service like Limewire.

The reason that the people on some of these websites are so upset is because of the limitations. It is not that these people wish to steal the music or make it available for download more so than it is the fact that they would like to be able to put it on whatever portable device they own or have a copy available on every computer they own. These demands are not outrageous by any means so as a result, the people who are in an uproar have something of a leg to stand on. But what if they did not know the digital rights management was there? Would there be so much of an uproar?

If you think about it, the average person probably has a grand total of 3 computers to their name (four if you count their work PC). They have a main desktop, a computer for their child or significant other, and maybe a laptop as well. Most people I know (and mind you I have a lot of geeks for friends) have maybe 3 computers on average. So let us assume for the sake of argument that everyone in the world has 3 computers and maybe 2 portable music devices (for example an iPod or Zune). Keep that in mind as throw something at you.

With the figures we just came up with, let us pretend that the recording industry started applying digital rights management to files purchased from online media retailers. The user still had to authorize the file to be played on a computer and portable devices had to be connected to an authorized PC before a file could be copied to it. The content makers had settled on 5 computers and 5 portable devices as the limit to which a file could be copied. Also a song file could only be burned to a CD 10 times before a user could no longer burn it. Also, every PC or device was registered for 6 months, after which the device or PC would need to be re-authorize to play that file. Now, lets say that these content makers and retailers did not inform anyone of such restrictions. Pretend they just threw it out there. How long do you think it would take for someone, a normal user to hit any of the restrictions? My guess is that the normal, average user would never hit the limits of these files. And consequently if no one knew the limitations existed, there would be little uproar from the technology community over it.

It stands to reason however that eventually a person would hit the limitations and ask what is going on. Eventually people would find out about it. But would the uproar be less or more from this kind of practice? Keep in mind that I am not talking about something like Sony BMG’s root kit deal. This would not hinder your PC in any way, only the file you had purchased and downloaded. I think that if the content makers had snuck the digital rights management in under our noses, we might not see the hatred towards it like we do and might have just accepted its existence in a much nicer way.

The reason that I wish there was not such an uproar over DRM is because, in all honesty, it is here to stay. There is very little getting around it. Sure it might become a little more open and less restrictive, but to assume that digital rights management is going away is just naive. The recording and movie industries what their products protected and they will go to great lengths to ensure that it is as difficult to hijack it as they possibly can.

Do I like digital rights management? Not really, but at the same time I understand its purpose. It is not meant to hinder the average user’s use of the file, but rather to hinder one’s ability to steal it. I think that DRM can be done in a much better way and until someone comes up with a way to do it better, we are stuck with what we got and I accept that.

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