Digital Rights Management (DRM) Technology
Should media companies and software producers be allowed to use Digital Rights Management technologies in order to protect their media from illegal use, duplication and reproduction?
Please cast your vote after you've read the arguments.
You can also add to the debate by leaving a comment at the end of the page.
It is generally accepted in most legal jurisdictions that copying media for the use of others is a f...
It is generally accepted in most legal jurisdictions that copying media for the use of others is a form of stealing and should remain illegal. However, this should be enforced by targeting pirates who produce large quantities of copied of media in bulk, rather than targeting innocent or low-impact home users sharing songs with a friend or transferring a song from a CD to an MP3 player for listening on the move. Such home users make little difference to the viability of the media or software industries, but the actions of pirates impact upon their ability to make profits from the intellectual property they own. DRM isn't effective against piracy and so we should see it as an anti-competitive practice and trade barrier which makes life worse for consumers and doesn't bring benefits to artists or the music industry in the long run.
Treating commercial pirates and home users differently, despite the fact that they are both committing acts of piracy runs against the principle of the uniformity of the rule of law. Companies are within their rights to protect media just as if it were any other product. If anything, the prevalent view that low-level home piracy is a socially acceptable crime which hurts no-one, is a clear reason why home users should be treated as pirates. DRM software does not prevent legitimate use of a product, but it does aim to reduce the incidence of casual piracy which has been made easier by software such as BitTorrent and has resulted in over 80% of he software in most eastern European countries being pirate rather than legitimate. Such casual piracy significantly harms the revenues of software and media firms, small and large.
DRM technology constitutes an anti-competitive practice which should be outlawed. On one hand, some...
DRM technology constitutes an anti-competitive practice which should be outlawed. On one hand, some forms of DRM technology prevent the free movement of goods and services which should be guaranteed under WTO membership. DVD region codes prevent genuine competition on the international markets, because consumers can't legally play imported DVDs, which would drive down the price of DVDs in Europe or America to Asian levels (where the DVDs are produced), significantly benefiting consumers. This is an example of 'market sharing' which is illegal in both the UK & EU under the Competition Act 2002 and the Treaty of Amsterdam (Article 81 & 82). DRM technologies should not have a unspoken exemption on what is just an practice designed to keep prices above their market equilibrium. On the other hand, conversely, DRM also overprices media only currently available in the West, meaning that it just isn't available in developing markets in South America or East Asia. This is a similar argument to that made by those who think that Indian pharmaceutical companies should be allowed to circumvent TRIPS in order to produce reasonably priced generic versions of drugs domestically. Further, the EU has criticised DRM on some software because it is impossible to legally disable even where not doing so “threatens infrastructure or critically endangers lives”.
The opposition does not have to defend all forms of DRM technology and if such technology is simply a cover for a firm illegally dividing up a market, then obviously that should be investigated by the relevant law enforcement agencies. However, media firms are not charities and they have no obligation to make media available at cost all around the world. Rather, pricing decisions are made on the basis of the demand in the market. The profits that media firms generate are then invested in new artists or software design, pushing forward music and technology. By undermining these profits through ‘sharing’ music with a friend who might otherwise have bought that track/album, DRM hackers reduce the profits of these software firms. This results in price hikes to legitimate users in order to recoup costs and less funds available for small software firms to reinvest in engineering, reducing competition in the market and therefore keeping prices high. Arguments about violating TRIPS are certainly controversial, but here governments are talking about matters of life or death rather than service-sector goods purchased by those who could afford them. No-one is claiming a right to the latest Busta Ryhmes CD, rather the right is with the record company to restrict use to those who have paid for their product.
DRM technology should be considered an infringement on types of legitimate ‘fair use’ consumer use, ...
DRM technology should be considered an infringement on types of legitimate ‘fair use’ consumer use, harming rights for consumers which are protected under the World Intellectual Property Organisation Copyright Treaty, 1996. DRM aims to make it impossible to create compilations of songs & videos that you already own. Microsoft Zune's limited sharing technology prevents unlimited streaming between two devices owned by the same individual. Activation schemes frequently incorrectly tell users that they are using pirated products when reinstallation is attempted after a crashe (for instance the Windows 'Genuine Advantage' scheme). Further, DRM makes it very difficult for firms who operate thousands of computers to install multiple copies (volume licenses often do away with DRM), resulting in a huge economic cost to them in terms of having to install on every system separately. Evidence of an acknowledgement of this counter-productivity came when EMI stopped releasing Audio CDs with DRM in January 2007 because of the sheer number of CD players they were incompatible with. They themselves admitted that “the costs of DRM do not measure up to the results”.
There exists no ‘right’ to copy a product for personal use. Opponents of DRM just think that the media industry is retailing a different product. If media firms choose to sell single-use or single-license media then that is their right and they should be able to use technologies to prevent the breach of this contract by users, be they home users or large corporations. The act of copying media involves no interpretation as in the case of a play which is performed; it is the simple duplication of the original. If you want to listen to a CD in two different locations, you need to take that CD between them or pay for another copy if you prefer. Further, even for interpretive reproduction (specifically the theatre), authors are still allowed to enforce restrictive sets of rights during their lifetime, preventing certain interpretations such as cross-casting. All digital media firms are doing is putting in place a technology to protect those rights.\
There are circumstances, as with any technology, in which DRM will malfunction, but in these circumstances, firms will replace the media free of charge as they are obliged to do. When pirated copies of Microsoft Windows were registered using fraudulent keys and then activated online, Microsoft implemented a helpline for genuine users who found that their CD key had been taken by pirates leaving them unable to activate their product.\
Not only does DRM technology infringe consumers’ rights, it is also ineffective in actually preventi...
Not only does DRM technology infringe consumers’ rights, it is also ineffective in actually preventing piracy. It took only a matter of months to crack the Blu-Ray encryption algorithms, and this was before disks were even widely commercially available. Similarly, the DivX video coding format, previously the leading form of DRM in the digital video market is now completely obsolete. The problem of DRM is therefore that it is never an issue of if, but when the protection will be cracked. The result is that the media industry pointlessly piles money into cryptographic research for only a few months of protection. No form of DRM protection has ever lasted more than 2 months before it has been disabled or a workaround has been found. The fact that DRM is therefore ‘defective by design’ reveals that its true aim cannot be to prevent piracy because most pirates are not individuals with a computer, but organizations with access to a media duplicating plant and skilled programmers. Thus the 'sole purpose [of media companies using DRM] is to maximize revenues by minimizing your rights so that they can sell them back to you”.
When operating systems and high-end graphics packages retail for in excess of $1000 then there will always be a huge financial incentive for pirates to ‘crack’ and ‘patch’ newly released products and this means that all DRM technologies will eventually be cracked. However, DRM technologies are becoming harder to crack over time, meaning that fewer and fewer home users are able to obtain pirate copies of media rather than real copies. Pirating Windows XP SP2 required the ‘slipstreaming’ of 2 separate installation disks. In order to activate Windows Vista, home users either had to use a ‘virtual server’ set up by pirates or imitate the BIOS of another computer, a process which left many users’ machines unable to boot. Over time the risk of crashes and viruses has increased, along with low quality on ‘ripped’ DVDs and non-functional music CDs. Therefore the cost to users of choosing a pirate product (the purpose of DRM technology) increases and so it is absolutely worth media companies continuing to invest in DRM technologies because it is increasing the level of technical knowledge required to even install pre-cracked pirate products.
DRM has a 'Chilling effect' on genuine technological research, preventing legitimate reverse-enginee...
DRM has a 'Chilling effect' on genuine technological research, preventing legitimate reverse-engineering of technologies for research purposes, particularly in university departments which don't get funding for this because of the potential legal issues. In the USA “The DMCA has also been cited as chilling to legitimate users, such as students of cryptanalysis (including, in a well-known instance, Professor Felten and students at Princeton), and security consultants such as Niels Ferguson, who has declined to publish information about vulnerabilities he discovered in an Intel secure-computing scheme because of his concern about being arrested under the DMCA when he travels to the US.”
Those who are not committing illegal acts have nothing to fear from the media industry. However, if PhD students who engage in some casual software piracy on the side are deterred from their ‘research’ by the threat of potential legal action, then that is a good consequence of DRM. The Oxford Internet Institute has recently shown that the interests of budding and experienced cryptographers can be put to far better use reverse engineering the software behind the great firewall of China, aiding the spread of freedom of information and democracy rather than focussing on DRM software.
There is a logic which says that DRM may actually lead to reduced sales, hence not even benefiting a...
There is a logic which says that DRM may actually lead to reduced sales, hence not even benefiting artists (protection of their revenues is the rationale used by record companies). As argued above, DRM allows overpricing. Sony and EMI have recognised this in China, where to combat DVD and VCD piracy they have cut DRM spending and now sell their VCDs for around $2. As a result, they can now compete on price with the pirates, people pay a small amount more for a genuine version, and EMI have doubled their profits in the VCD market since 2005, almost all attributable to increased sales. For domestic users, DRM makes it so difficult to manage your media (i.e. if you lose your hard disc then you lose all of the itunes that you've paid to download) that it actually creates a positive incentive to download pirate mp3s rather than legitimate itunes songs. The same is true with firms using Windows XP and other such software.\
Internationally, overpricing encourages piracy in countries where the major media producers haven't got a local pricing policy, and so here all copies are pirate and the entire revenue from that country is lost. DRM also ties artists to a single format and form of copyright protection, as well as drawing criticism from the anti-DRM lobby for their music. It is hugely ironic that free-spirited artists who would have opposed corporate control, such as The Clash, Sex Pistols and Leonard Cohen are now effectively endorsing it because their music companies distribute DRM-protected disks.
Artists produce media and media firms then make sure that media sells. There will always be something of a ‘Faustian pact’ between punk rock bands and music industry executives, but that is something that bands should consider when signing contracts. Governments do not write legislation to avoid irony.\
In terms of the effect on sales, whilst it may be possible to cut costs on mass-produced music, on many forms of media, significant sunk costs have to be covered. As with the pharmaceutical industry, the profits from every hit product (band or film) have to cover the losses from many more loss-makers. Yet without investment in new bands, singers, actors and directors, and a willingness to take commercial and artistic risks by media companies, there will be no pipeline of new stars to provide entertainment in the future. Pirates, of course, do not care about such long-term investment in talent; this means that the lowest pricing level which covers costs would still induce piracy and so media firms still need to tools to fight that piracy. \
Continued reliance on DRM inhibits the industry shift towards new models of content management for t...
Continued reliance on DRM inhibits the industry shift towards new models of content management for the future. The media industry needs to preserve its revenue by moving in at least some ways in the direction of the Creative Commons agreement. DRM goes in exactly the opposite direction. It hurts the firms because it gives consumers a negative experience and places the burden on them to prove that they aren't pirating, but doesn't even stop those who actually pirate. Viacom's $1bn lawsuit against Google for their Youtube subsidiary could act to inhibit the growth of the web-video industry, preventing transition to a sustainable (per view?) model of revenue sharing.
DRM and a shift towards Creative Commons licensing are not mutually exclusive, they can just apply to different forms of media or different content. Further, here again, governments should not act as agents to tip industries into following the perceived ‘right’ path for their future. Surely this is just as intuitively wrong as the thought of the government stepping into the VHS vs. Betamax debate in order to prevent the production of incompatible video – both would be a waste of resources. This argument is bizarre and is worryingly similar to those made in command economies during the 1980s.
What do you think?