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DRM: The Good, the Bad and the Downright UGLY

Digital rights management (DRM) is necessary to a point to keep honest people honest. However, there are places where it has gone too far and the production and distribution companies are trying for, even more, looking for a cash cow. In an industry where record companies, publishers, and other artistic production and distribution companies have long enjoyed a virtual stranglehold on the entertainment available to the public and on those who produce it, the Internet plus new electronic technology presents a huge challenge to their income stream. Currently, DRM is a haphazard collection of methodologies at best and downright interference with the rights of paying customers at its worst. In addition, certain aspects of DRM allow the distributors of content to impose unseen restrictions upon the lawful purchaser of the content through phrases buried deeply within the long DRM rules. There is currently much debate over this aspect in Canada (“DRM ). There is a need to create a worldwide standard for digital rights management and create laws governing the type of DRM which may be used on purchased materials. Without this, the main losers are the producers of digitally distributed media and the paying public. (“DRM ) DRM only makes copying intellectual property too much trouble for honest people. It does not stop pirates. Any copy protection can be broken.

Digital Rights Management is currently a collection of different strategies and devices to prevent the copying and digital distribution of media, such as books, movies, music, magazines, software, and television and radio programs. The DCMA set the rules in 1998, but companies keep adding their agreements to the statements, which few people read. (Tassel 28) There is a DRM fee on all blank CDs and cassette tapes, allegedly to provide compensation to the industry and the producers of entertainment or informational material, but nobody seems to know where this money goes. Since it is about thirty cents per unit, this substantially raises the cost of CDs. There are also efforts to add this fee to DVDs, recorders, and MP3 players. So paying customers will be paying DRM fees to back up their work and content. Recently the Canadian Supreme Court struck down DRM fees on certain players. (“London Drugs “)

Indeed, publishers, record companies, and distributions channels, and stores are losing money. Barnes and Noble recently considered selling all their retail outlets. However, they are embracing the ebook (Kristine_S ), and will likely also soon offer print on demand in their stores. A lot of people blame piracy or digital material, and the industry certainly does lose a substantial sum to pirates. They lose even more to independent producers who have begun to publish their work and sell it on the Internet. That DRM fee will also be applied to media used to make a permanent copy of legally downloaded materials or legal backups of owned material. Ripping CDs and DVDs to MP3 or MP4 formats means that many more fit on one disk, which is very useful for carrying or storing the car. Download services offer individual tracks or entire CDs for sale, and these are recorded on CDS, which have DRM fees, so the customer pays twice. The same is true of purchasing downloadable software, ebooks, and other digital media. Amazon had some interesting problems with the Kindle when it removed copies of paid-for books on people’s Kindles. This has raised a lot of discussions, and there is a possibility that owners of ebooks may eventually be able to sell their ebooks at a discounted price as “used”.(“Kindle, DRM & the case for an ebook Marketplace – SlashGear “) However, this is not the worst injustice.

There have been cases of CDs or DVDs which had such heavy-handed DRM protection on them that the paying customers could not play the music or audiobooks on their computer. Celene Dion had a DVD release that did this. People were enraged. Why should the distributor be able to tell the customer what kind of machine she or he must use to play the purchased content? DRM protection on CDs and DVDs can make them so they will not play on that nice player you bought in Hong Kong. There are fixes for this region-based blocking, but many people have no idea why their purchased movies, audiobooks, and music suddenly do not work.

You can buy audiobooks through Amazon, Audible, Itunes, and many other services. However, that audiobook is also restricted to a certain number of devices, and problems can invalidate your authorization. If your computer needs to be restored, you really cannot deauthorize it when it does not work. So when you get the computer operating you can find yourself unable to deauthorize it, since it appears to be a different computer. So you can easily find that you run out of authorizations and have to call customer support. The DRM-protected formats cannot be played without connecting to the Internet at set periods, usually, once a week even though your player may be authorized. Itunes even ties your iPhone to one computer, which causes you to lose purchased materials right off the phone when you synchronize the contents. They are not lost, but you have to either go back to the first computer or reauthorize it and authorize the new one, then go find your ebooks, audiobooks, and applications and redownload and install them.

The worst part of DRM is regional. A dual citizen of the US and Canada, living in Canada, cannot purchase certain ebooks for the Amazon Kindle, though the same books can be purchased through their Audible subsidiary in audio format. Video on Demand and many ebooks from Amazon are governed by the same rules. This is to prevent theft. So what is the alternative for this customer, or any customer who may be traveling? Well, do without, get a copy from a friend or find a pirate copy. The same rules apply to download or streaming media. One particular group of documentary films is broadcast on public television on the program Independent Lens. Another service only recently allowed in Canada, but unavailable to anyone outside the US or Canada is Rhapsody, the streaming music from Real Networks (“Boards of Canada – Rhapsody Music “). Some satellite radio broadcasters only accept subscriptions from US customers and they cannot take their services to many places in the world, even though reception is not the problem. It seems that all these companies want to prevent foreigners from buying the materials to prevent theft. So how else will they get these materials?

One interesting incident happened a year or two ago to kindle owners who were traveling. A book which they had purchased suddenly vanished from their readers. Amazon was red-faced over that one (“Kindle, DRM & the case for an ebook Marketplace – SlashGear “). Digital rights management also controls where the customer can store or use purchased materials. For example, anything bought through Itunes, Apple’s online store, cannot be stored or played on any other brand. So if your iPhone gets stolen, you have to buy another compatible player, use a Mac, or lose the paid-for media you purchased. The same is true of several other services, for example. In this way, the owners of the service lock you into their technology. Other ebook or audiobook services have their DRM problems. Much only work in some hardware or software readers, which makes it hard to choose hardware or software. The Mobipocket format is one with some troublesome compatibility issues. There are dozens of DRM software programs out there for producers of material to use. (Tassel 72-126) various combinations can protect content from copying or from modifying. Each one has its own set of problems.

Digital rights management extends to software also and it gets pretty tricky here. If you have to reimage your computer, you lose your authorization or activation on many software packages and also on books or other purchased content. This includes your operating system, which is one of the more expensive software purchases. Also, upgrading your operating system may make your software stop working. Then you usually have no choice but to upgrade your software also. Sometimes you have to contact the company when you have had to reinstall your operating system several times for various reasons because they record the number of activations and you have exceeded their limit. Sadly, Internet activation means that the purchaser must have internet, even if they will not use it.

So while digital rights management is necessary to prevent both wholesale copying and modification of intellectual property, it has a long way to go before it is acceptable to the public. In its current state, it is anything from mildly problematic to absolutely ridiculously cumbersome and a problem for consumers.

Works Cited

“Boards of Canada – Rhapsody Music “.

“DRM | Digital Copyright Canada”. Web.

“Kindle, DRM & the case for an ebook Marketplace – SlashGear “.

Kristine_S. “B&N eBooks are Coming to Canada ” article B&N eBooks Are Coming to Canada in Unbound: NOOK, NOOKcolor and NOOKbooks Blog (2009).

“London Drugs “. Web.

Tassel, Joan Van. Digital Rights Management. Boston: Focal, 2006.


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