The Dangers of Digital Rights Management

by Mike Shea on 4 March 2007

What is DRM?

Digital Rights Management (DRM) is copy protection for newer forms of media, most often distributed electronically over the internet. Music, TV shows, and movies sold over the internet often include a form of digital rights management. Music, TV shows, and movies distributed illegally over the internet do not contain any form of copy protection and are thus more usable across a wider range of devices and in a wider range of circumstances.

Digital rights management hurts customers. It increases cost, reduces functionality, increases risk, limits the lifespan of the media, and forces customers into a proprietary market. This article describes five reasons to avoid media including DRM.

DRM Increases Cost

Consumers who purchase media with DRM are paying money for features that directly reduce the legitimate use of that media. For example, money spent purchasing Windows Vista pays for digital rights protection embedded with the operating system. Systems with Windows Vista spend system resources in processing power, memory, and storage to ensure that the user isn't attempting to circumvent digital rights management. The money spent on DRM could be spent on the creation of a better product, a greater share for the artist, or a lower initial cost for the media.

DRM Reduces Functionality

If you copy a movie from a DVD you purchased to your PC, you are breaking the law not because you copied it but because you circumvented the DVD's digital rights management. This law was included in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).

DRM software is designed to remove legal functionality from the user who owns it such as copying for educational purposes or in the creation of satire.

DRM is getting more and more restrictive. CDs can be legally copied to mp3. DVDs cannot be legally copied. Music purchased from iTunes can be burned to a music CD and re-ripped to mp3 but TV shows and movies purchased from iTunes cannot be burned to a DVD.

DRM Software Can Threaten System Security

DRM can be dangerous. The Sony Rootkit included on some music CDs in 2005 opened up serious vulnerabilities on computers attempting to play it back. Symantec antivirus software identified the Sony software as a security threat on infected computers.

DRM Reduces the Selection of Playback Devices

Music, movies, or TV shows purchased with DRM over the internet will only play on specific devices. Music, movies, or TV shows without DRM can play on many different players.

A movie purchased on Xbox Live cannot be downloaded to your iPod or backed up to your computer. A song purchased from iTunes cannot be streamed to your Xbox 360. However, music in MP3 formats, a format without DRM, can play on both an iPod or an Xbox 360.

Music purchased for a Microsoft Zune music player cannot be transferred to an Apple iPod if one wants to switch players. Imagine if you could only play CDs on RCA CD players or DVDs on Sony DVD players.

Even if you purchase a Blue Ray high-definition DVD drive for your PC, you will not be able to view High Definition quality movies on your Windows Vista machine unless you have a monitor and a video card with a special HDMI connection used to push DRM down to the monitor itself. This connection offers no advantage for the display of video but Hollywood and Microsoft require it for high definition video playback.

DRM Reduces the Media's Lifespan

Media with DRM will last only as long as the controller of that DRM chooses or is able to maintain it. If Apple stopped supporting iTunes, a customer's iTunes library will stop working when that user attempts to move it to a new computer or authorize a new iPod.

Music with DRM is much less likely to play back in the far future. It is hard enough to read older digital formats when it isn't encrypted. When it is encrypted, it's almost impossible.

What Can We Do?

How can each of us help fight digital rights management and demand a better, longer lasting, and more flexible product for our money? Here are a few suggestions.

  1. Do not purchase music, movies, or TV shows with DRM.
  2. Write your congressman to help amend the DMCA to allow for more flexibility for the customer of electronic media.
  3. Support media companies who sell products without DRM.
  4. Help spread the word to educate consumers on the dangers of DRM.

The days of DRM-restricted media are coming to an end. More and more customers are realizing that they are paying too much for a severely restricted, lower quality, and possibly dangerous product. Help fight against DRM and regain control over the music, movies, and TV shows you pay for.

References: - Wikipedia: Digital Rights Management - Steve Jobs: Thoughts on Music - EFF: Digital Rights Management - Wikipedia: Sony BMG Rootkit Scandal