DRM: Screwing the Honest Consumer
When you buy milk, you always check for the expiration date. You even look for it on your bread and cheese. So why isn’t there one on that DVD that just came out? Or the new album you just bought? Chances are, if you downloaded them, there is an expiration date. You just don’t know about it yet.
That expiriation is in the form of Digital Rights Management. DRM is an access control technology that content creators and distributors put into their digital downloads. The movie industry and recording industry see it as a way to protect their content from those dirty, dirty pirates and protect their artists from the theft of their work. It puts a password on digital downloads to ensure that only the person who paid for the content is able to use it.
So with pirating digital downloads out of the way, the artists must be swimming in cash, right? Wrong! Pirating is alive and well. And circumventing DRM technology is actually very easy; all it takes is a couple of searches on Google. So what is DRM doing? It’s hurting the honest consumer. The one who doesn’t get their music from thepiratebay.org and puts $200 into iTunes to fill up that shiny new iPod.
Then how exactly is DRM hurting the consumer? First, it confuses the consumer. Did you know that your Microsoft Zune media player won’t work with your old Microsoft Plays For Sure certified DRM-ed music? How does that make sense? These stupid labels mean nothing to the casual consumer.
It also locks down your digital library. Take iTunes for example. Anything you buy from iTunes can only be played on your computer (if you have an internet connection) and only using the iTunes software. And to listen on the go, you must buy an iPod. There is no room for competition here, because once you commit to the brand, you are locked in. It’s not just iTunes either. Sony, Walmart and Napster all use proprietary DRMs, so that only certain media players can use them. DRM creates a closed system for the distribution of online media. And that may be fine if you already got that iPod for Christmas, but what if the DRM server goes down?
Obviously those files are sitting on your hard drive, but you won’t get anywhere if you can’t connect to that verification server. And if that server goes down, or is taken down, then you’re out of luck. So when MLB took their DRM server down last week, people who bought $200+ worth of baseball videos can never, ever watch them again. When MLB put their new DRM package up for sale, they were basically saying, “Tough cookies, go buy our videos again.” Baseball may be America’s pastime, but is that really how you treat your loyal fans?
Digital downloads are convenient, but the price is more than $.99 for a song. Before you buy digital downloads, think about what you are committing to, because it’s more than just the new Britney Spears CD. You are entering into a closed system that could end at any time the distribution company sees fit. DRM does not stop the illegal copying of files; it only hurts the Honest Abe consumer. Don’t be a sucker!