DRM is Bad.

As it is nearing the launch of Vista, the latest incarnation of Windows, it seems a good time to warn some passing visitors of one of its most serious flaws: it is defective by design.

Windows Vista is crippled by built-in Digital Rights Management, or DRM. This form of ‘rights management’ has been around for a while now, largely unnoticed by the masses, but it is being bought more and more into the spotlight by the impending launch of Visa, which has DRM integrated deep into the operating system.

DRM is touted to be a necessary practice that works to prevent media pirating and to protect copyrighted work for the creators of original material – songwriters, musicians, actors, that sort of thing. In reality it restricts consumer’s legal ‘fair use’ rights in regards to their purchases, restricts what individuals can do with their purchases, and is used anti-competitively.

One of the major complaints about DRM is that it often locks you into or out of certain devices. Some DRM media cannot be burnt to CD, for example to listen to on your car’s CD player, whilst others cannot be copied to portable devices such as MP3 or portable video players. DRM-‘protected’ media that does allow you to burn and transfer music will almost always put a limit on the number of times that particular file can be transferred. Some CDs can only be played on CD players and not on computers or other devices. Some DRM purchases – those offered by MTV’s URGE service and the legal reincarnation of Napster – will become unusable if you fail to renew your monthly subscription to the service.

DRM can also be used to lock you into a certain company service. Music ‘bought’ on Apple’s iTunes can only be played on iPods. Windows Media DRM-‘protected’ music can only be played in Windows Media Player above version 9.

And DRM doesn’t even adequately protect against piracy; this comment on SlashDot summarizes fairly accurately:

DRM absolutely *can* be fought. Just tell everyone about the free & superior competitor to Netflix: The Pirate Bay.

Seriously, this is a simple issue of competiton: Netflix is easy to use, costs money, and provides moderate quality DRM-encumbered files. TPB is slightly more complex, free, and provides decent quality DRM-free files. If Netflix sucked it up and provided high quality DRM-free files, they’d have 2 out of 3 and be compeditive with TPB again.

The only way to fight DRM is to point out one simple fact: DRM *encourages* piracy, because it’s hard to get guilt tripped when the pirates are providing a strictly better product.

For those not in the know, The Pirate Bay (TPB) is a search engine for ‘torrent’ files – a sort of decentralized peer-to-peer network not dissimilar to the GNUtella protocol (which is the backbone of Limewire, Morpheus, others) or the old Napster, which indexes an unreal number of downloadable files and which is notorious for the number of movie download links in its database.

When I buy something, I expect that to mean that I own it. If you bought a book you would expect to be able to own that book and be able to read it as many times as you like – not as long as a subscription allows. If I wanted that I would rent it, not buy it. If I buy a glass, I expect to be able to use it to hold water, juice, coffee… not just one or two drinks that the distributor deems suitable. Likewise if I buy a can of Lilt, I expect to be able to put that drink into any of my cups or glasses, and drink it wherever I want.

In any other context you would not accept such intentionally crippled ‘products’, but because the mainstream record labels have got away with it for so long it has become accepted. As long as they can get away with this shit, they will continue to sell you intentionally retarded goods. Don’t stand for it. Avoid online media stores that force DRM upon you.

For more information, have a look around the Defective By Design organization website, this PoshLinux article, the Wikipedia entry for DRM, and the BadVista website.

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