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12/22/2004 Archived Entry: "DRM! What is it good for? Absolutely nothing."
Posted by CKL @ 12:10 PM PST

Driving to work this morning, I heard a news report about how the San Jose Library is now offering audio books for download through their web site. Cool, I thought. Then they mentioned how you could use portable mp3 players to play the audio files, and they would "expire" after three weeks. How are they enforcing that? I thought.

I should have known: "digital rights management" (DRM), using Microsoft's Windows Media Audio (WMA) and yet another software application you need to install just to play these damn files.

I can't say it any better than Cory Doctorow already has, so I'll just quote him:

The same thing happened to a lot of people I know who used to rip their CDs to WMA. [Microsoft] sold them software that produced smaller, better-sounding rips that the MP3 rippers, but you also fixed it so that the songs you ripped were device-locked to their PCs. What that meant is that when they backed up their music to another hard-drive and reinstalled their OS (something that the spyware and malware wars has made more common than ever), they discovered that after they restored their music that they could no longer play it. The player saw the new OS as a different machine, and locked them out of their own music.

There is no market demand for this "feature." None of your customers want you to make expensive modifications to your products that make backing up and restoring even harder. And there is no moment when your customers will be less forgiving than the moment that they are recovering from catastrophic technology failures.

In the same talk, he goes on to make the general point that there is no market demand for a media format that does less than other formats. No one wants DVDs to have more restrictions on how you can play them. The only reason that consumers need to put up with these wacky "intellectual property" runarounds is because of content monopolies protected by old laws that haven't kept up with new technologies.

I refer you to Niven's 9th Law: Ethics change with technology. And so does business. It will happen, sooner or later, whether Hollywood and the RIAA and TV networks like it or not. Think of it as evolution in action.

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