28 September, 2008

DRM hits you coming and going

If you re unfamiliar with the term DRM, it stands for digital rights management. The record (RIAA), movie (MPAA), and software industry has used forms of DRM to prohibit you from sharing your purchased digital goods with others. This continues to be a headache for the honest, while the less honest folks are able to find free "cracked" version of the same materials.

Take for example if you purchased music from the likes of Microsoft or Yahoo! You were notified (hopefully) this past year that they will no longer support these services. For reasons that appear to agree with what has been argued all along -- that DRM only impacts honest, paying customers -- Microsoft, Yahoo!, and now Wal-Mart are reversing their business models by discontinuing the DRM practice. Microsoft and Yahoo! have easied up some what on their position, to give you more time to find a work-around, but nevertheless you are left either with losing the music once your current PC dies or the burden of transfer through CD ripping or other nonsense. No word yet what Wal-Mart is going to do, if anything.

So here we have a bad business practice that has impacted customers continued through now not supporting "what was started". (DRM hits you coming and going.) I understand that if you work hard enough, you could get a full refund from Yahoo!. This should be the norm for all of these companies that forced DRM on consumers.

Another example is currently happening in the software industry. If you buy the new game, Spore, from Electronic Arts (EA), you are required to activate it over the Internet. If we ignore the many, many problems users have had with the system and just look forward 5 years, will EA still be supporting the Spore activation? What about in 10 years?

The message, which our government seems to always come down on the "big business" side is that you are never really purchasing a product to own, but rather to use until we (big business) decide you should no longer be able to use it. My advice... be very careful what you buy, and make sure you do it with your eyes wide open.

The Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) says it is illegal to defeat any piracy protection, even if just for a backup. So, most CDs can be legally ripped (copied) to your computer, but many online services (e.g. iTunes) continue to have DRM music. It is very unlikely that you will find DVD movies that you can rip to your computer; fortunately most of us do not watch movies over and over like we listen to music. With software it is a mixed bag. Be very leary of any software that requires an online activation, unless you know that you will want a newer version within every 4 to 5 years. With the exception of games, there is usually a reletively similar open source alternative that you can always turn to if you do not want to risk your hard earned dollars.

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