Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

International Day Against DRM

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Apparently, today is the International Day Against DRM. No, I have never heard of it before either; no, I have not been able to find an official* explanation of it. At virtually the same time, the W3C has very controversial signed of on DRM on the Web. The latter is particularly disappointing, because the W3C continues its trend of prioritizing the interests of the industry over the interests of the users and the original ideals of Internet, thereby contributing to its degeneration.

*That is: I have found explanations of it from several sources (and the name is fairly self-explanatory…), but none that makes it clear that it is the originator, organizer, whatnot.

This being so, I would encourage my readers to spend some time on the topic, e.g. reading up on what the EFF has to say.

My own take is simple:

While an industry interest in DRM can to some part be legitimate, the problems for the consumers are disproportionate, often unscionable. Honest consumers see their ability to use fairly purchased products in a fair manner* restricted, while actually paying more than without DRM, because DRM costs**—and often while being exposed to security threats*** or the risk of privacy violations. Indeed, the presence of DRM is likely often what motivated an otherwise exemplary user to look for illegal copies in the first place… In addition, the (German) customer already pays compensation to the industry over other channels, notably blanket amounts added onto the price of various electronic devices and media directly or indirectly usable for copying, which are then payed out to the industry. This makes DRM at least partially**** an attempt to eat ones cake and keep it too.

*What this implies depends on the product and DRM involved, but common problems include the inability to use the product without (an otherwise unneeded) Internet connection, to move the product from an outdated to-be-retired device to a new one or to use the product non-simultaneously on more than one device, to play DVDs on a computer instead of a stand-alone player, to copy-and-paste a brief quote from a PDF file, …

**Typical costs include developing and implementing the DRM system, license cost for DRM (notably with DVDs and its infamous and useless CSS), computer resources needed to e.g. decrypt something, … Even additional hardware costs are not unheard of, cf. e.g. (the misnomer) Trusted Computing.

***Not only does DRM virtually necessitate new code that increases the risk of new bugs and new security holes, but many DRMs actually interfere with the user’s system in a dangerous and unconscionable manner. In at least one case, the methods used were indisputably illegal and caused severe security problems.

****Nominally, this is intended only to cover some legally protected uses, e.g. backups. However, firstly, the size of these additional fees and the great number of occurrences are not in, IMO, in proportion to what they nominally should cover, especially when factoring in that everyone pays them—even when never engaging in these protected uses. Secondly, a common consequence of DRM is that these legally protected uses are infringed upon, e.g. in that a backup is no longer technically possible for the average user—and might suddenly be illegal (and a lot more effort…) for the advanced user, because the mere presence of DRM illogically invalidates this right.

To boot, DRM often misses the point. Specifically, there are three main types of users that are impacted by DRM:

  1. The average honest consumers, who are worse off without any benefit or compensation—definitely with no price reduction for the reduction in functionality.
  2. The more-or-less professional pirates and deliberate large scale violators of other types. For them DRM is a mere nuisance—they have the knowledge, resources, and a sufficiently good cost–benefit situation that they can just work around* DRM. The actual benefit of DRM through hindering this type is very small and cannot in anyway justify the disadvantages for the average honest users. (Of course, this is the exact opposite of what the pro-DRM rhetoric dishonestly claims.)

    *“How” will depend on the details, but many DRMs are easy to get around with the appropriate knowledge. Many PDF readers, e.g., ignore DRM entirely—switch reader and presto. Many DRM keys have been cracked or leaked and are available to the pros. Tweaked software or hardware can solve much of the rest. In a worst case scenario, the latest Bluray can be played on a screen and re-captured with a camera with only marginal loss of quality—and the result is a superior product, because annoying animated menus, unskippable trailers, and other user-hostile nonsense is removed…

  3. Some set of misguided people, mostly very young and/or poor, who just want to share what they have bought with their friends, e.g. through copying a CD or DVD while keeping the original. (While lending the original for two weeks and then getting it back is (still…) perfectly legal and unremarkable. Ditto just watching the DVD together.)

    The market impact of this is comparatively small to begin with, because the friends are not users who would otherwise all line up to buy the product themselves (again, the exact opposite of what pro-DRM parties claim through the calculations they present). No: Most of them will forego the product entirely, seeing that the world is drowning in other content; get the product from a professional pirate (cf. above); enjoy the one copy of the product in a legal manner (e.g. through borrowing, cf. above); or on the outside wait until the price has dropped to a more reasonable level*.

    *CDs/DVDs/… are often released at very high prices and over time drop quite considerably. The 29.99 Euro movie of today might sell for 9.99 in a years time and a fraction of that in ten years time. CDs from the 1970s are often sold five or ten at a time for 5 Euro… Calculations by the media industry seems to invariably assume that the release price is what everyone would have paid.

    For the small minority of them who would buy a given product (and many who would not), what is missing is not necessarily DRM—but often the understanding that what they do is illegal, and much of the same effect could be reached simply through better information about copyright, intellectual property, and the like.

    Again, DRM by no means brings enough legitimate benefits to outweigh the disadvantages for the average honest consumers. The problem is that the industry reaps all the benefits while the consumers bear the cost…

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Written by michaeleriksson

July 9, 2017 at 2:41 pm

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