A Five Minute Guide to Opposing DRM

I've been covering the Free Software Foundation's Defective By Design campaign against Digital Rights Management (DRM) technologies since its planning stages. Starting from scratch, in less than three months, the campaign has grown to 7000 members. This number is impressive, especially since the campaign introduces a degree of activism previously unknown in the free and open source software communities. What strikes me, though, is that, for all the loathing of DRM, how rarely the reasons for opposing it are spelled out. In some cases, the reason may be that people consider them too obvious to be worth mentioning, but, too often when I've probed, people haven't even heard of the possible objections. These objections begin with the fact that the case for DRM has yet to be made, and continues with arguments about consumer rights, privacy, competitiveness, and industry standards.

Not that the explanations can't be quickly found online. Cory Doctrow's "Microsoft Research DRM Talk" and Lawrence Lessig's "The People Own Ideas!" are especially useful explanations, none the less for being a year or two old -- some particulars may have changed, but the general objections remain the same. Still, neither is especially short, and I thought it might be worthwhile to summarize anti-DRM arguments in an article that can be read in less than five minutes to help people explain the issues to others.

The unproven need

As you probably know, DRM refers to a group of technologies designed to restrict access to digital information, typically software, music, or movies. Supporters of DRM claim that it is needed to prevent copyright violations and loss of income. Undoubtedly, computer technologies make violating copyright easier than every before, but, the frequent claims that the music and record industries are losing money because of these violations lack credibility because they are based on projected sales, and no pre-computer baseline exists for comparisons. So far as I know, no neutral study supports them. In fact, as Eric Flint of the Baen Free Library is fond of pointing out, because online availability makes keeping a backlist of earlier works available, it may tend to increase sales in the long run, especially for older works and less well-established artists.

Moreover, even if digital technologies were proved to be harmful to sales, alternatives to DRM exist. For instance, in Canada and many other countries, copyright law includes provisions for a levy to compensate artists and their publishers for lost income. A surcharge is placed on such things as library copies of books or the sale of recordable CDs, and regularly divided up among registered stakeholders. These provisions, which are several decades old in some parts of the world, could be at least considered before DRM. New levies or an increase in existing ones would do less to upset existing laws than implementing DRM.

But, despite the unproven need, DRM is slowly gaining legal status. Both the American Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) and the European Union's European Copyright Directive legalize DRM, and other countries are looking at similar legalizations, largely because they are signatories to the 1996 World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Copyright Treaty.

Whether DRM can reduce copyright violations is uncertain. Considering the inability to control similar technologies in the past, such as the tape recorder and the photocopier, probably it cannot. Rather than attempting to enforce the unenforceable, artists and manufacturers could probably make better use of their time by considering alternative business models. However, this inability to achieve its basic goal does not mean that DRM will not be implemented with dangerous consequences.

The basic arguments against

Basically, arguments against DRM fall into four major categories:

  • Consumer Rights: The most basic argument against DRM is highlighted in the name of the Defective by Design campaign -- namely that DRM technologies result in inferior products with deliberately disabled features. Just as importantly, even if DRM were effective in protecting manufacturers against illegal copying -- which seems questionable, considering how quickly DeCSS appeared once the demand for it existed -- it does so at the cost of existing consumer rights. Users can borrow books from each other, but may not be able to borrow ebooks or mp3 files where DRM is implemented. Similarly, they may not be able to play DVDs from some distributors or install free software, because their hardware only allows registered products from a particular manufacturer to be used or installed. They may not be able to make a backup copy, even in jurisdictions where doing so is legal. From this perspective, DRM continues the trend begun by software end-user license agreements and subscription services, both of which promote the idea that users buy only the right to use the software they buy and do not own it outright. In all these cases, the general tendency is to reduce consumers' rights while reducing the obligations of manufacturers.

  • Violation of Privacy: In the fall of 2005, publicity over Extended Copyright Protection, better known as the Sony root kit, alerted consumers to the possibility that DRM-enabled hardware can be controlled by the manufacturer, and report regularly on its users' activities. This scenario is any system administrators' nightmare; basically, it makes a secure system impossible. Moreover, it violates the privacy provisions in many jurisdictions (but not in much of the United States), most of which gives users the right to know that data is being gathered. Typically, privacy laws also give users the right to know that the data is gathered for a reasonable purpose and used only for the reasons stated and that the data is stored securely. Privacy concerns are the largest non-technical argument against DRM, although conceivably DRM could simply be recognized as an exception to existing laws.

  • Anti-competitiveness: Depending on the implementation, DRM may allow only compatible digital material to play on a given piece of a technology. In other words, to play a Sony CD, you would need to have a Sony player, and non-Sony CDs would require their own separate players. In this scenario, DRM becomes a back door entrance to monopoly. It would prove a detriment to second tier hardware manufacturers unless they could license a major manufacturer's DRM technologies. Even more importantly, it would literally mean the end of free software.

  • Industry Standards: So far, no universally agreed-upon standard for DRM exists. Instead, each manufacturer sets its own standards. To see why this situation is undesirable, you only need to imagine the chaos if car manufacturers could set their own crash safety standards. Not only would people waste endless time shopping around for compatibility, but consumer protection would be impossible. There's a reason why, in other industries, standards are set by consultation and overseen by government agencies -- it's the only way to ensure that the standards are not based entirely on self-interest. If DRM standards were regulated, we might hope that, if DRM were not banned, it would at least be restricted to mild forms that did not violate existing copyright and privacy legislation. The way things are, DRM sets an alarming precedence for other industries by placing the interests of a few manufacturers above the public good.

Looking for other arguments

Generalizing about DRM is hard because no single form of it exists, and we can't know exactly what forms will be implemented in the future. Still, these arguments cover most of the objections, although at a very high level. If there are objections that I've missed (and I'm sure that there are) then please free to mention them in a comment, so others can learn from them.

Meanwhile, the ones I've given are enough for a start. As you can tell from the Orwellian name, DRM technologies are not the benign effort to protect copyright law that their supporters claim. They are based on an unproven need, and would benefit only a handful of large companies while undermining existing laws and business practices and making free software an impossibility. Yet they are being introduced with a minimum of public discussion. By marshalling the arguments, we can encourage others to support groups like Defective Design and the Electrohic Frontier Foundation and help to counter the drive towards DRM.

Bruce Byfield is a computer journalist who writes regularly for Newsforge and Linux Journal.


Bruce Byfield (nanday)


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DRM is a crack. why the music

gorden's picture

DRM is a crack. why the music purchased from iTunes cant play on my MP3 player,i have to pay for them twice, it is really ridiculous! however ,there is always some method to defeat drm protection, many thanks to these great guys who developed drm removal.

DRM used as an monopoly/cartel

whatsmyname?'s picture

I can see there being perfectly legitimate(apart from in a legal sense) reasons for having DRM, for after all making movies or music cost money; in investment, time and effort; let alone people don't invest money to just break even, and, if you don't want to pay the money for something you don't have to buy it (or should i say have it!). The problem I feel with DRM and for that matter any other similar system is it that it will make it the only "legal" way to watch a movie or listen to music. This HD format war that is going on at the moment makes me think of never buying a hard copy item again (because whatever format you buy, you either won't be able to get all the movies and/or they'll be another format in 10 years or so, and discs take up so much room!) But I become unstuck when I want to legally buy a digital legal copy. I'd have to use a windows os (which basically means using a windows pc) or maybe a mac, both of which are basically monopolies and in bed with each other (cartel) (while i'm having a rant i recently thought of buying a mac, or maybe os x, until looking into it and realising that i'd have to pay a good 500% mark up on what would be the same spec pc with WINDOWS! (and they've already got a mark up!) and for that matter installing os x on a non mac computer is (i think) illegal!).
So I'll get to my point...using DRM is going to cause (in fact I think u could say already has, and i'm sure most people reading this are well aware) much the same situation with having to use windows/osx, you'll have to buy off the internet sites that are owned/"in bed with" each other because studios won't release the films to anyone who isn't using DRM. Which means you'll either have to pay an overly marked up price or not watch it at all, and for that matter be forced to use other equipment which may not be your preference in order to do so, which has been pointed as being an infringement of consumer rights. Which is kinda where we are at the moment, but it is a great shame as with the huge market of the internet there is still a huge possiblity for companies/film producers/music producers to make large profits buy selling their products with a mind for wide distrubution/low price (like daily newspapers). Which individual consumers would not feel hard done by with.
So.. that was a rather long winded way of saying I think if you wanting to stop DRM then legal action against film distrubutors/companys in terms of creating a cartel could maybe one route.

thanks for reading, that was very therapeutic to write that, I think I have more of an idea of my opinion now ! :)

When you think about the

Anonymous's picture

When you think about the issues surrounding DRM, it's important to remember that the we have copy protection laws (copyright, patent) NOT to protect the holders of copyrights or patents, but to enhance the public good, by giving artists and inventors a temporary reward as an incentive.

The proponents of DRM, etc., claim that their "intellectual property" is at risk of being "stolen". Therefore, they must protect it by controlling the technology you use to view it.


There is no such thing as "intellectual property". The "copyright clause" of The Constitution of The United States (Article 1, Section 8), implies that information belongs to everyone. Exclusive rights are granted only temporarily, and for the expressed purpose of promoting the "Progress of Science and useful Arts".

Furthermore (as determined by the U.S. Supreme Court), since the copyright clause is meant to "stimulate development of the works it protects, its purpose is not to inhibit such progress." (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Copyright_Clause).

In other words, the DMCA ought to be unconstitutional, since it clearly inhibits progress. As should any copyright-related law or technology, like DRM and the DRM-related components of Vista, that works contrary to the public good.

Realize that once there was a world very much like the one envisioned by the proponents of DRM, where all knowledge was closely held, technology was proprietary, and most people had little freedom. It was called the Dark Ages.

Unless you long for that lost world, you might want to mention these issues to friends and relatives, have a serious chat with your representatives about copyright law reform, and do it soon, because these people are serious, and, as with Global Warming, things are heating up fast. Soon it will be too late.

DRM seem dead

toms's picture

DRM seem dead, some software, like tunebite, can easily remove DRM copy protection from music, audio books and etc.

Here is a mirror for

Janet Kellman's picture

Here is a mirror for Tunebite

"...For instance, in Canada

A. Kepler's picture

"...For instance, in Canada and many other countries, copyright law includes provisions for a levy to compensate artists and their publishers for lost income. A surcharge is placed on such things as library copies of books or the sale of recordable CDs..."

Worst. Idea. Ever.
You have already pointed out that such things as "lost sales" are impossible to measure. How is charging me extra for a CDR that I plan to use for non copyright infringing purposes any less an infringement on my freedom? How is it not a back-handed endorsement of copyright infringement?

DRM doesn't work, wastes money, and stalls innovation

chris's picture

DRM doesn't work:
the big enemy that many media companies are trying to fight are online file sharers. the media companies hope DRM will curb online file sharing, but it won't. the files available from P2P networks are not DRM'd. they are ripped from a digital source, or they have had the DRM comprimised.

DRM is a waste of money:
DRM technologies cost money to research and develop, and will ultimately be defeated, often in little or no time. as long as digital media is playable, it can be copied DRM free. money spent on DRM technologies will be wasted since the media can and will be copied anyway. ALSO: if a company selling DRM media and/or players goes out of business, the money that consumers paid for media will be wasted when the proprietary player is no longer available.

DRM stalls innovation:
many movie and music companies are waiting to "perfect" DRM before making their music catalogs available online. that is why there is no sony/microsoft answer to iTunes. since DRM doesn't work, it will never be perfect, and therefore, those catalogs may never be online.

A missed objection: Information Technology property rights

Russell McOrmond's picture

We have launched a Canadian Petition to protect Information Technology property rights which objects to what is commonly referred to as "DRM" in a different way. No matter what the rights of the copyright holder, there are more "things" involved that have their own owners. While they may "own" the copyright on their work, they do not own the technology used to produce, distribute or access digital works.

Controversial DRM often has two parts: a technical measure applied to content such that it can only be accessed by "authorized" technology which contains the right keys, and a technical measure applied to information technology which considers its owner to be the attacker.

Both of these things, if adequately understood, would be illegal: tieing the purchase of digital content to the purchase/use of "authorized" access technology is prohibited by most anti-trust/competition laws, and treating the owner of something as the "attacker" of what they own would generally be thought of as a form of theft.

This is not to say that copyright holders shouldn't have their rights protected, but that it is very wrong and counter-productive to "Rob Peter to Pay Paul", meaning it is wrong to deny the tangible property rights of those who own information technology in order to allegedly protect the interests of specific copyright holders.

Can I make a suggestion?

g@z's picture

Can I make a suggestion? Change your wording to get rid of or reduce the use of the word 'may'. It makes your statements sound like a guess and that weakens your arguments.


anti DRM does not equal thief

Charles Witt's picture

I am an example of a cheapskate that downloads full reasonable-quality music MP3s for free, listens to them occasionaly sometimes over an extended period of time, and then after I am convinced I actually like the song/music, I turn around and buy it from magnatune.com which allows me to do this. I have purchased 4 albums from them and 50 percent of the price goes to the artist. I just now purchased 2 hardcopy childrens books ("Pig and the Box" and "Crow Who Could Fly") from dustrunners.blogspot.com after downloading reasonable-quality pdfs and reading them and deciding I like them. The author MCM gets a large portion of the price. (Coincidentally he claims he gives about half of the profit to a charity.) The books have a CC-SA license.

There are more than enough people willing to pay for quality products even if the license does not force them to.

I bought a mp3 player from IRiver that would have been useless to me if I didn't figure out how to flash it with drm-free code. Out of the box it required me to use the latest Windows Media Player to upload songs to it. That is an example of defective by design and vendor lockin.

DRM is not good for business. It will drive consumers to drm-free vendors. In some ways drm even encourages stealing because it significantly raises customer frustration and ire.

Just the tip of the iceberg...

helios's picture

"...In some ways drm even encourages stealing because it significantly raises customer frustration and ire."

A case on point

I have a better idea

Anonymous's picture

I believe that there exists in DMCA to allow for the same provision in the home recording act of years ago that you CAN loan or make a copy for a friend. If thats not true then let me know.

So who is a friend? If I setup a website that before you could download any mp3s you had to engage in a certain social interaction over chat like telling me about yourself and where you live and about your life...Then I let you download my Mp3s would that be criminal? If I didnt like you then I wouldnt let you download. What if I had a million friends?

Is that provision for sharing music even still there? If it is the definition of a friend may mean sharing Mp3s without consequences.

Wrong asessment on "degree of activism"

Harald Welte's picture

I totally disagree with the authors' view that defectivebydesign.org shows a degree of activism previously unknown in the Free and Open Source Software communities.

If you look at the fierce battle against software patents in Europe, and its degree of activism, then defectivebydesign.org has a long way to come.

The software patent struggle in europe lead to (amongst others) a petition with 300,000 signatures, multiple real-world demonstrations in Brussels and other European cities. There are few proposed directives in the European Union that have received so many years of resistance.

There's now even a book on the software patent struggle. Download it for free at http://www.no-lobbyists-as-such.com/index.html. This should give you a perspective on how big FOSS-originated activism can get.

DRM hurts the independant content developer!

Al's picture

There's an important point you've missed: DRM of a certain type of media hurts the independant developers who make content for that media.

For example, let's go back about 10-15 years, before computers could handle CD-quality audio very well. I was an independant musician then, and I recorded onto a format called DAT (Digital Audio Tape) which stored lossless audio at CD-quality on tape cartridges.

Due to Sony's cries of piracy, a huge restriction was slapped on this format. A consumer-grade DAT deck could record from analog and export digital, or record from digital and export analog, but could NOT record digital and export digital. This means that there was always at least one generation's worth of analog loss whenever audio passed through DAT, making it an essentially useless technology when it came to digital mastering.

It's DRM "features" like this that can actually create a wall that keeps the independant developer from using the full potential of the hardware they bought.

DRM hurts the independant content developer!

Dan Haworth's picture

Fast forward 7-12 years and you have me buying my Sony Hi-MD with an optical recording input. Fantastic I thought! I can hook this up to the optical output of my mixer and record my mixes that I do each week. Then I can hook the player up to the pc via way of the NetMD usb link and transfer the recordings for finalising and burning.

Na ah!

Anything recorded over optical cannot be transferred over NetMD, making this product essentially useless for the purpose I was buying it. You'd have thought such a ridiculous limitation would have been listed on the box or something... nope

It sucks when you have to do indepth research online into a multitude of products to make sure you're buying one thats not going to completely mess you around...

Its called....do not trust

Anonymous's picture

Its called....do not trust Sony. Since their rootkit issue, i decided to boycott them. Mind you I have not bought much from them in the past anyway!!

Media fees as alternative

Charles Dugan's picture

One part of the article that concerns me is the following passage about a potential alternative to DRM:

"Moreover, even if digital technologies were proved to be harmful to sales, alternatives to DRM exist. For instance, in Canada and many other countries, copyright law includes provisions for a levy to compensate artists and their publishers for lost income. A surcharge is placed on such things as library copies of books or the sale of recordable CDs, and regularly divided up among registered stakeholders. These provisions, which are several decades old in some parts of the world, could be at least considered before DRM. New levies or an increase in existing ones would do less to upset existing laws than implementing DRM."

These levies have a problem similar to the one that Nicholas Petreley described regarding HDMI copyright blocking restrictions. The HDMI restrictions are supposed to stop "pirates". However, they also affect honest people's ability to exercise their fair use rights. Similarly, levies on media "tax" honest users for their honesty and the "tax" goes (mostly) to corporate interests. The "tax" may even encourage illegal copying - if you're paying for the assumption that you're going to illegally copy, you might as well get your money's worth. Another problem is that the reimbursement schemes are bound to favor those corporations and artists that are already making large amounts of money. Although fans of less well known artists may want to support the artist, it's often difficult to find their work, so they may copy a friend's. The reimbursement schemes that I have read about usually base artist compensation on legitimate sales.

illegal copying?

Anonymous's picture

Do you know what you're talking about?
The levy doesnt encourage "illegal copying", all mp3 downloads are legal in Canada, whatever the source is.
And if you go at your friend and copy his cd it's also perfectly legal, since it's not distribution.

"Legal" MP3 downloads do not

Vince's picture

"Legal" MP3 downloads do not mean it is ok. You cannot deny that downloading MP3s for free without the author's consent is wrong no matter how you slice it. The artist deserves compensation, just like you do for work.

And copying a friend's CD is illegal. You won't attract any attention, but you are creating a copy that did not exist and for which your friend does not have a license. You can't photocopy a whole book and give it to your friend; same with CDs.


sledge's picture

The exact same group that fed you that line is the same group the fails to pay the artist. And you swallowed it whole, not thinking about that taste.
Remember Little Richard!? They don't pay the artist. They originate usurious loans with onerous terms. They call it an advance against record sales. Then the record sales never go well enough to do much more than pay back the loan.
It happens now. I know of a situation where the artist had to get the CD relased or pay back the loan because the last deadline was looming. He sweats blood to get the thing out the door, and when it hits the shelves, his contribution to the recordings, all his guitar tracks, had been dubbed by the producer's guitarist and his credits were replaced. At the meeting where Tony was demanding satisfaction, the producer reads him back the contract language that gave the producer the right to do what he wanted. Bad contract hidden in the midst of great promises. However, no royalties have been forthcoming.
If you want the artist to get paid, mail him a check. If you want everyone but the RIAA members to get rippped off, buy the recording. Then don't make a back up copy so you have to buy it over again in two months time when it become inexplicably unplayable (I have twenty year old CD's that play better than some twenty week old CD's I have. I may be cynnical but, I wonder if something has changed in the manufacture of CD's).
DRM has nothing to do with being fair, it has to do with control and cash. I don't really want to distribute content, I just want to take the only available media and convert it into a format that I can listen to on my PDA\MP3 player when I leave the house. I want to have a copy that will play after the CD get jostled about in the player in my car when I hit a pot hole. Better yet, make a copy of the CD to use in the car so I don't have to replace the CD every other month!
If I do that, am I breaking the law? Will I be breaking the law in the near future? If so, make a better argument than saying I am taking food out of the mouths of artists that the ones prosecuting the 13 year old girls aren't planning to pay in the first place!
Furthermore, there are no words to express my frustration with the endless parade of make up artists cryin on camera about loosing their jobs because of Bittorrent. They lost their jobs because they stayed in Hollywood when the film industry moved to Vancouver. then they moved to vancouver when the industry relocated to New Zeland! Bittorrent has little to do with it. The industry is doing it to the artists, grips, and prop masters. All the while prosecuting divorcee's and college kids because profits are down.

Levies are not the answer

Sean at Prompt's picture

Interesting story, although I don't think levies on blank media are a good approach. It results in everybody (including those using blank media for legal purposes, such as personal data backups) paying money to the largest record companies (who are assumed to be the largest victims of piracy) for no societal benefit. It also legitimises piracy, and so might actually increase it and increase the economic damage it does. Many will reason that if they're being forced to pay for music they're not copying when they buy CD-Rs for data backup, they might as well start copying it.

Levies are not the answer.

Anonymous's picture

I won't disagree with a single point you've made.

But I think levies and their side-effects are better than DRM and it's side-effects.

Think lesser-of-2-evils.

Another technical point is

good engineer's picture

Another technical point is that most DRM protocols use quite large processing overheads, with AAC or MP3 this can be 20% increase.
A waste of energy, & robs cycles that could be usefully used. It also treats people like naughty children. We have to trust people.

Another problem with DRM is

Anonymous's picture

Another problem with DRM is that the only person DRM hurts is the legitamate consumer. I have yet to see a pirate hindered more than a few days. No DRM is secure as in order to read a DRM protected item you have to have a player that can decrypt the item. As any cryptographer will tell you if I have both the key and the encrypted item i can decrypt the item. The keys are always in the players. so a hacker can always get them.

Re: Another problem with DRM is

Anonymous's picture

Bruce Schneier (author of "Advanced Cryptography", "Secrets and Lies", and his Cryptogram blog) puts it thus:

Digital files cannot be made uncopyable, any more than water can be made not wet. The entertainment industry's two-pronged offensive will have far-reaching effects -- its enlistment of the legal system erodes fair use and necessitates increased surveillance, and its attempt to turn computers into an Internet Entertainment Platform destroys the very thing that makes computers so useful -- but will fail in its intent. The Internet is not the death of copyright, any more than radio and television were. It's just different. We need business models that respect the natural laws of the digital world instead of fighting them.

(From http://www.schneier.com/crypto-gram-0105.html posted on May 15, 2001)

Easier than that

Anonymous's picture

In the case of CDs, you just need to make a bit for bit copy of the CD and not even wory about cracking the DRM. A researcher found evidence that in fact that happened to the Sony rootkit infected CDs. He found evidence of them "calling home" from locations where the legitimate CDs were not distributed.

DRM deliberately circumvents free trade

Doug Brenner's picture

DVD region coding is a scam by which the wealthiest copyright holders are able to artificially divide the world into technologically-separated submarkets.

Without the artificial restrictions imposed by the scam of region coding, a single DVD would be viewable on any DVD player in the world. However with such restrictions in place, a DVD purchased in the UK will not be viewable with players sold in the USA. This is not any limitation caused by incompatible formats. Region coding is a deliberate technological restriction devised by the consumer electronics industry cooperating with the motion picture industry.

Why should I care if the DVD I purchase is less useful, as long as it plays in my own player where I live? There are many reasons, but the main reason is that region coding forces us to pay higher prices for DVD's since it is not possible for DVD's to successfully cross borders. If for example a certain movie sells for a low retail price in the USA, but a much higher price in the UK, then this difference in price cannot be moderated by the mechanism of importing USA-bought DVD's into the UK.

To be sure, there would be significant money to be made in the international redistribution of legitimate DVD's. However with this scheme of "region coding" in place, all of that money remains securely in the hands of the MPAA and similar companies. They gain the ability to charge consumers in each artificially-define submarket for the maximum amount of money that each of these regions will bear.

In the ultimate hypocrisy, these large companies (which are quick to outsource or offshore the costs of production) remain staunchly opposed to the concept of free trade when it would be the consumer who would actually benefit, as would be the case in a world free of the constraints imposed by region coding.

A copyright in itself grants no privelege to determine the physical location in which one's copyrighted works will be sold. In a free world, the determinants of selling location and selling price should be left to the dynamics of a free market itself.

A thriving economy will include gray markets for legitimate items. Suppliers need to accept this, and I believe that a properly educated public will force the issue.

In the meantime, it is possible to vote with one's money, and do one of three things. One might boycott region coding by ONLY purchasing those DVD's which explicitly have the region code set to zero and are thus compatible with all DVD players; and/or one can purchase a special DVD player which totally ignores region codes. Such players may be technically illegal to import, but nobody would be jailed for importing a single unit for personal use, and these units are readily available online directly from merchants in Asia. You definitely won't find them in your local retail store. Another option is to take a DVD player which initially enforces region coding restrictions, and "unlock" the player by entering a special sequence of keystrokes on the remore control. Instructions for this can be found on the internet for certain models. As a last resort, you can watch DVD's from another region on your Personal Computer, using special software which either ignores or removes the region coding. In the latter case it may be necessary to copy the copyrighted content to your hard disk prior to viewing, but such is the inevitable consequent of correcting a real problem with legitimately purchased media which was, in fact, defective by design.

Apart from people wanting to

Anonymous's picture

Apart from people wanting to view "gery imports" there is another, very legitimate issue: what about people who don't stay within one region all their life? Eg. my brother has been living in 4 different countries with 2 different region codes in the last 7 years.

Now, his standalone DVD player is not a problem because here in Europe it's fairly standard for players to be multi-region capable. But he bought a laptop with a DVD drive and several DVDs when he lived in the US. Upon returning to Europe he has the option to switch the drive to region code 2 and lose access to all his US DVDs or keep it at region code 1 and not being able to access his European DVDs. As with most laptop DVD drives he can change the setting of the drive 3 (three!) times. Hello? It's a laptop, for crying out loud! It's freaking portable!

And it's not just DVDs anymore. Add printer ink cartridges to the list. Yes, ink cartridges! With the laptop he bought a small printer and brought it with him back to Europe. When the black ink ran out he couldn't get a refill because none of the stores had cartridges with that number. Calls tech support. Answer: yes, that's a US-only number. In Europe the same cartridges have a different number. Ok, so he goes and buys them - result: printer gives him a DRM warning! Another call to tech support and a complicated procedure to prove that yes, he owns that printer and yes, he legitimately moved to another country and this is not a grey import and finally he is given some magic key which reconfigures his printer as "European". Voila, now he can use the European region encoded black ink cartridge! Of course, he can now throw away the half-full US color ink cartridges, because the printer doesn't accept them anymore. Who cares, it's only a loss of around $50 or so, right?


A possible suggestion

Vance's picture

This was touched on by the discussion of region coding, and it may fall under the heading of "Consumer Rights," but one point I think worth making about DRM is that it substitutes the judgement of machines for the judgement of humans.

As an example, I think we can agree that it is wrong for a driver to flee the scene of a car crash. There's a simple technological solution: when a car's airbag deploys, have it kill the engine and make it impossible to restart. This idea seems attractive until you're driving across North Dakota in the middle of winter and hit a deer (or caribou, or moose, or whatever they have). Although your car may not be seriously damaged, if the airbag deployed you're now stranded in the middle of the frozen wilderness with a pissed-off caribou.

At this point, one could start proposing technological refinements to such a system, but the point is that you're never going to cover all the negative unintended consequences because you've taken the judgement away from humans and put it in the hands (they're virtual hands, I guess) of a machine with a pre-defined ruleset.

And who writes this pre-defined ruleset?

Russell McOrmond's picture

It is important to ask "who is writing the rules". In the case of DRM it is rules written by device manufacturers who have their own special interests (call it anti-competitive, which seems to be the largest interest --- and an illegal one) and that who sign deals with major labels and studios (remember -- not all copyright holders have a say, just the incumbents) who have their own special interests (stop capitalism by denying the ability of innovators to unseat the incumbents -- also anti-competitive).

When I recently spoke about DRM at a public event I compared DRM to having hunters have to call up an animal-rights group to get permission to shoot an animal before their gun would operate. No matter what we might think about guns, at least banning them would be more honest than DRM which puts them under the control of those special interests which oppose their use the most.

I've never understood those who think DRM has anything to do with protecting copyright. It is always trivial to circumvent a DRM because, by its nature, the encrypted content and the decryption key must exist in peoples homes in order to display the content. DRM can only harm the legitimate interests of law abiding citizens, and it a tool that allows lawbreakers to circumvents the law (property law, competition law, privacy law), not protects against lawbreaking.

Arguing implementations - not DRM itself

Bryan's picture

Has anyone noticed that all of the above arguments target DRM implementations - either real or imagined ones - not the basic concept of DRM itself.

Thought experiment: design a DRM that protects content at least as well as pre-internet physical media (books, tapes, records, etc) did, yet does not run afoul of any of the arguments above. It is possible.

re: Arguing implementations - not DRM itself

Anonymous's picture

No it's not. To make DRM work relies on being able to control what piece of code can access a particular piece of data -- that is the foundation. Once you do that, all of the privacy/monopoly implication details above come into force.

Put it another way: the copying of digital data is fundemental to the way a computer works. In order to stop it, you must take the control of the computer away from its owner and centralise implementation of software and hardware. There is no other way to do it.

No decent DRM implementation?

Anonymous's picture

There may actually be a "decent" way to implement DRM.

There are several basic requirements:
* The DRM engine be placed on audio and video output devices - the sound and video cards. This way all paths that need to be protected remain on-card.
* The DRM engine be high-level, and controlled by a documented interface, so that it could be run by open-source software.
* All "secrets" remain within the DRM engine, incapable of being directly inspected from the host computer.

Within these guidelines, the host computer can be completely open source, yet because the DRM engines are completely opaque and embedded, the datapaths remain secure. IMHO, at this point there are only 2 problems left:
1. The cost is slightly higer because the DRM is done by an engine instead of the CPU.
2. The whole philosophical thing.

I would argue that even with the cost issues, this solution is BETTER for DRM than current solutions, because there's no way to hack it through the host computer, even with logic analyzers, etc.

There is no "decent" way to "Rob Peter to Pay Paul".

Russell McOrmond's picture

The claim is that "There may actually be a "decent" way to implement DRM.", a statement I consider false.

Embedding a computer within a computer (what you proposed -- calling it an "audio or video output device" or whatever doesn't change what you are proposing) doesn't solve the underlying problem which is that the owner of the computer, not the manufacturer, that should be in control of that computer (And any computers embedded within it). None of the other effects of allowing manufacturers to decide what software is running (the privacy/etc issues) are changed at all.

In order to protect capitalism (the private ownership of the means of production and distribution) in the digital age it must be the owner of the computer (and any computers embedded within it) that has the government protected right to choose what software runs on that computer. It can not be third party, whether that third party be the manufacturer of the device or a virus author. Any circumvention of the owners control of the hardware should be illegal.

I don't see this as a philosophical argument, unless of course you consider government sponsored theft of information technology to be philosophy.

DRM fundamental problem

jsmith1's picture

A Fundamental problem with DRM is that the computer can't read your mind. Example: Can I copy a CD to play the copy in the car (legally)? According to Orrin Hatch (during hearings in, I believe, 2003), yes. Can I sell that same CD on E-bay? No. How does the DRM tell the difference when I make the copy? Especially if I decide to sell the CD AFTER I make the copy to play in the car?

Short answer is DRM is a technical solution to a social problem, and as such cannot fundamentally solve the problem. DRM prevents fair use, is easily worked around (as Bruce Schneier says bits are bits - professional DVD pirates simply copy the whole disk, CSS and all), and only hurts the consumer, not the criminal. The solution to software / media copyright infringement? We've had it for 200 years - the courts.

Remember RIAA and MPAA do NOT represent the artists, they represent the middlemen (recording studios/movie studios). Who are the ones hurt by internet distribution (why do I need a recording company when I can do it at home and distribute over the internet)?


The problem with your

Vince's picture

The problem with your proposal is that you're applying a technological solution to a social problem.

DRM is primarily a philosophical issue which concerns privacy and freedom; the media, however, spin it as a technical issue. If cars came with the hood welded shut and required special fuel produced by the auto maker, could only be driven by you, and came with a specific set of rules on how the maker will let you use it, nobody would buy it. Considering how long cars have been around, a scenario such as this would clearly come up as philosophical or social because we've taken the freedoms for granted. In the realm of computers and internet, they are still new and most people don't understand these issues sufficiently enough to debate them, thus chalking them up as technological.

I understand that DRM is a different issue in a different time, but the philosophical implications are the same. DRM is stripping the users of their privacy and their freedom. Of course piracy is wrong, but this is most certainly not the solution.

Here's some more bad things

MikePeterson's picture

Here's some more bad things about DRM.

--Losing your entire collection--
Using many current DRM implementations, the content is tied to a particular machine. Computers and electronics are notoriously short lived. When, not if, your device dies, you must convince the media owners that you are not a pirate to attempt to rebuild your collection.
Good luck.

--Software is buggy--
Most of the arguements surrounding DRM assume it works perfectly, and then explore the implications.
Those of us in the software business know better.
Software has bugs, DRM is no exception.
When, not if, a bug strikes, the honest user must attempt to convince the media owners that he is not a pirate.
For many products, tech support sucks, or is non-existant.
Once again, good luck.

--The digital dark ages---
Librarians and archivists are having enough problems even without DRM. Media deteriorates, players and formats become obsolete.
When you add DRM to the mix, you virtially guarantee that most of today's media will be lost to future historians.
Who will provide the decryption keys when the companies that produced the DRM are long gone, and the techniques long forgotten.

Excellent points. These are

Vince's picture

Excellent points. These are the same arguments for adoption of OpenDocument Format (ODF) as an office suite storage format, one which MS has thus far eschewed.

MP3 (but open source and royalty-free OGG would be better) is already an unencumbered de facto standard that the majority of software and hardware recognizes. Why decommodify it? To make money, of course. If you can only play music bought at the Apple store on Apple hardware using Apple software decoded and encoded with an Apple codec, does that really sound like progress? Does that sound like Apple really has the best interest of the artists and the consuming public at heart? HELL NO!

We need to wake up.


Anonymous's picture

This is pretty easy-to-digest, if a bit simplistic. Plus it's liberally licensed.

What will people do?

Nicholas Petreley's picture

I think that's the question. I've read lots of reviews of various products, including Xbox 360 and lots of HDTVs. A common complaint about many of these products is that they lack an HDMI interface. It seems to me that people are aware of the fact that HDMI can improve the quality of the connection, but are unaware of the fact that HDMI is designed to prevent you from capturing copyrighted content. So HDMI could become ubiquitous and by doing so, make DRM unavoidable, and impossible to circumvent if you're using any device that you can't hack.

I personally don't know of a solution to this problem. I don't think consumer education is going to happen. Who's going to wage a war against HDMI? And how likely would it be to win, given that so many people are screaming for it?

I don't know how you can say

Anonymous's picture

I don't know how you can say that music / video artist don't suffer from people downloading their work. True, if the person would never go out and buy the product....there is no loss. However, when there are ppl downloading music just for the reason of saving money, it does take away from the artist's earnings. DRM is a necessity for the future. I agree that DRM does somewhat restrict you in some ways, but it ulitmatly secures media for the better. As for HDMI, it would seem that you are mad for the fact that you can't capture copyrighted material?.....if so....I'm glad to see that DRM is doing it's job. Just sit back, and enjoy the quality of your HDMI connection....=P

You're not talking to me

Nicholas Petreley's picture

I was one of the very few people calling Napster theft when others were defending Napster. So you're not talking to me.

Yes, I'm angry that I can't use HDMI to capture copyrighted material ACCORDING TO FAIR USE. That's my point, not that I want to capture it to steal it. Right now, I can record any television broadcast on my TiVo for viewing later if I want to. That's fair use. Unfortunately, the captured material will be in standard definition.

I should be able to connect my cable box to a high-definition capture card and record the content for later viewing if I want to. That's fair use. If HDMI prevents me from doing that in order to prevent others from stealing content, then that's a bad thing. I'm not a thief. Don't make it impossible for me to do something perfectly legal because others are thieves.

HDMI Is Not About Copy Protection

Anonymous Cow's picture

Erm, you seems to have confused the difference between HDMI and HDCP.

HDMI (High Definition Multimedia Interface) is the digital interface for High Definition Audio/Video.

HDCP (High-Bandwidth Digital Content Protection), a form of DRM, is the culprit (http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/culprit) that will prevent one from making copies of the legally purchased content(s). I call it culprit because it is guilty of breaking the "Fair Use" laws.

Definition of HDMI and HDCP at Wikipedia.

Just want to give my 2 cents.

Have fun.


Nicholas Petreley's picture

Yes, technically speaking, you are correct that HDCP is the culprit. But HDMI and HDCP go together like (to quote Colin Mockrey) bread and...something that goes with bread. HDCP is part of the HDMI specification. It's optional, but it's part.

From http://www.hdmi.org/about/faq.asp

HDMI is available for a reasonable royalty rate as follows:

* For each end-user Licensed Product, fifteen cents (US$0.15) per unit sold.
* If the Adopter reasonably uses the HDMI logo on the product and promotional materials, then the rate drops to five cents (US$0.05) per unit sold.
* If the Adopter implements HDCP content protection as set forth in the HDMI Specification, then the royalty rate is further reduced by one cent (US $.01) per unit sold, for a lowest rate of four cents (.04) per unit. Adopters must license HDCP separately from Digital Content Protection, LLC, an Intel subsidiary. Please see www.digital-cp.com for details.

So not only is it part of the spec, you actually save money if you implement it.

My DVD player with HDMI already implements HDCP. I had to laugh when I first hooked it up to my TV, popped in Pee Wee's Big Adventure to watch it with my kids, and the first message I saw on the TV was "Copy Protection". Apparently it assumed I was going to copy the DVD to my TV. Of course, as soon as I hit "play" everything was okay, but the default message was to tell me that it recognized that I was using the HDMI interface, that the media in my DVD player was copy protected, and HDCP kicked in. This alone is bad. What if I want to make a back-up copy of this DVD? I can do so legally (and I can do that now anyway using a different method). But I shouldn't be prevented from doing so by the HDMI interface.

I like HDMI in concept (without HDCP). But I want to be able to hook up the HDMI output of my cable box to a MythTV box and use it as my TiVo. I could be wrong, but I'll bet anything I won't be able to do that because of HDCP. It's impossible to test at this point because there is no such thing as an HDMI capture card for the PC. But really, what are the chances that we'll ever see a cable box that implements HDMI without HDCP, especially when the manufacturer can save money by doing so?

The only way HDCP can fail is if people refuse to buy HDMI devices that include the HDCP part of the specification. Frankly, I don't think most consumers will know (or care) if HDCP is implemented or not. And they're currently clamoring for HDMI, so they seem to want it either because they're ignorant of HDCP, or in spite of HDCP. And in cases like cable boxes, they probably won't have a choice. You get whatever your cable provider gives you.

The name is actually Colin

Anonymous's picture

The name is actually Colin Mochrie:


Sorry I don't have more to contribute... great discussion.

Colin Mochrie

Nicholas Petreley's picture

Thanks for the correction! He's my favorite "Whose Line" member, although they're all very funny at one time or another.

DRM is a little out of

Paul George's picture

DRM is a little out of fashion. But still, if you need to convert non-protected and DRM protected audio or video files, you can use a DRM Converter. You can also find more Rippers and Converters