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iTunes

Its not just copy
Protection !


Creators Get Paid

Supports Business
innovation


Crackable ?
Thats OK !


Helps Preserve
The Future


Summary

About The Author

Why DRM is Great !


Sure, there are lots of arguments as to Why DRM Sucks.

But a good implementation can go a long way. Let's see what happens when you do it properly!

iTunes

More than any other commercial development, iTunes showed both content owners and consumers that content distribution using DRM can, indeed, be a win-win situation. Sure, everybody wants more - consumer want more flexibility with the content, content owners want more money, and Apple could use a larger cut; they are widely rumored to be making all their profits selling iPods and none selling songs. But that's just business.

Speaking as a Canadian consumer with an iPod Mini, it's brilliant. I haven't bought a CD in a while - why would I when I can get the tracks I want for 99 cents (Canadian !) each and skip the filler material ?

To be fair, Microsoft and a host of CE manufacturers and online music stores now have quite a capable offering. Microsoft was a bit late, and just as problematic, couldn't initially compete with the ease-of-use enabled by Apple's totally proprietary system. But Microsoft and its allies are gunning for the iPod and iTunes, and are bound to reclaim market share in 2005.
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DRM Is Not Just Copy Protection

In and of itself, consumers rightly dislike copy protection. And some content owners - especially music labels - have alienated consumers by devoting a lot of their energy to copy protection. As a result, many people think DRM and copy protection are one and the same. However, a good DRM system might control use, rather than copying, of content. It might offer offsetting business advantages. It can make it easy to use superdistribution. Or it might not control the content at all, but only record the fact that the content had been used and, perhaps, by who.

As time goes by, DRM systems which emphasize values above and beyond copy protection will become the norm.
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DRM Enables Content Creators to Get Paid

Just because major content owners have harped on this point to the virtual exclusion of all others, doesn't mean it is wrong.

DRM opponents have three main classes of response to this point:

  1. The screw-you response: content owners deserve to get ripped off. Sentiment aside, in the long run this position leads to unsustainable levels of piracy.
  2. The "really, we'll pay anyway" response: People are, on the whole, inherently honest: they will pay for quality content even if they don't have to. Systems which embody this line of thought include The Street Performer Protocol, the The Gift Economy and Fairtunes (oops, they're dead - so no link). Such honor based initiatives are a resounding flop. They have no enforcement, and they are hugely inconvenient, because there's no linkage from the content itself to the payment mechanisms.
  3. The "philosophically wrong" argument. This position, typified by the Electronic Frontier Foundation argues that DRM is copy protection and copy protection is evil, period. The argument, elaborated upon here, is largely based upon the United States constitution and is not without merit. However it errs in this author's opinion in several ways:
    • In decrying certain protectionist initiatives which arguably attack free speech, privacy, fair use etc. , they fail to acknowledge that DRM technologies can be implemented to operate effectively without such ill effects.
    • By leaving the revenue issue hanging, they appear to be squarely anti-business.
    • By presenting the issue in black and white, they are actually playing into the hands of opponents such as the RIAA - who themselves argue that it is black and white, albeit from the opposite position. The reality involves many shades of gray.

All the evidence is, that you have to control at least some of the content some of the time, or piracy rates get so high that content owners cannot stay in business. In the absence of any DRM, there is every reason to believe that global piracy rates would move towards, say, the 90% plus levels for software piracy in China at the turn of the millennium. The point is not that the DRM has to be uncrackable, but rather that it operates as part of an on-line offering which, on balance, is worth paying for.
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DRM Enables New Business Methods

Having content in digital on-line form, in conjunction with ubiquitous Internet access, creates many opportunities for creative content businesses.

This has been true for some time, but only in a few cases, like iTunes above, has it been taken proper advantage of.

Software Publishers have long used "Try Before You Buy" systems to provide potential customers with limited use of their products, in the hope that they will purchase the full unlimited product. There are DRM systems which effectively marry this concept to the Internet, providing effective security and a pleasant user experience as well, such as those from Trymedia and Softwrap. Because the business rules are server-based, there are virtually unlimited business models available - buy, rent, rent-to-own, free promotions, controlled betas, Web launch parties, etc. By and large, these systems make it hard to enough to steal content that few people will do so, do not ask for unreasonable concessions from the consumer, and, given a smart content owner, offer a pleasant experience all around that consumers will come back to.
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DRM can be crackable and still work

Every DRM system seen in the consumer world can be cracked in principle. Worse yet, only one person has to be smart enough to produce a crack, which the rest of the world can use. Some argue, therefore, that DRM systems fail to protect revenues and so should be scrapped. But the mere existence of a crack doesn't mean that most consumers will use it. In fact, when the "legitimate" path is reasonably priced and supported by desirable features such as technical support, cheap single-song sales, upgrades, or portable formats, many consumers choose the legitimate path. The Internet underground (see Darknet) is simply not a very pleasant place to be in the long run. The pornographic advertising, juvenile diatribes, shifting identities, lack of support, spam, pop-ups, trojans and viruses that come with that world get old pretty quick.

Consider iTunes. I can make a Red Book audio CD from any playlist in iTunes.. and once I do, that content is back "in the wild". It's easy, cheap, and interoperable. All the DRM is really doing is presenting a bit of friction so that the user actually has to go to a little bit of effort to make copies.

Indeed, one can make the mirror argument: that uncrackable DRM will not work, because consumers will not accept it. It's already beginning to look like that for SACD and DVD_Audio.
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DRM Can Help Save History

Digital goods are fragile and consumer technology has fleeting lifetimes. Files are lost, hard drives crash, media becomes obsolete, Operating Systems change, peripherals can't be bought any more. Copy protection, in and of itself, just makes this worse. It's one more way to lose the use of content. But DRM is not just copy protection - it is digital rights management, after all. If I have truly acquired a RIGHT to content, as opposed to a physical medium containing the content, then there is the potential for me to get that content anywhere, anytime, in any format required by evolving technologies. Some emerging DRM technologies, such as those from

Of course, not every on-line content business sees it that way. If I only pay a one-time fee for content, I can't expect a lifetime of associated free on-line service. However, there is value in acquiring permanent, portable rights, which consumers understand. Thus, business models are emerging which extend the life of digital media rather than shortening it.
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Summary: It's all in the Implementation

On-line content businesses can implement DRM and still satisfy consumers. The wise ones stay away from the "Big brother" solutions, in favor of carefully-chosen technologies which simultaneously protect content, and help make the content more appealing and accessible.