DRM: Don’t Fence Me In

One of my least favorite acronyms in the whole home entertainment business is DRM. It reportedly stands for “digital rights management.” From my point of view, that’s about as direct and honest as using “revenue enhancement” to refer to a tax increase. DRM is copy protection, pure and simple.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I understand that the content providers want to protect their products. Hey, I’ve made my living creating content for sale and I don’t want to have it be ripped off. But I also have seen repeated efforts at copy protection turn around and bite the companies that try it, going all the way back to Lotus. The Law of Unintended Consequences stands ready to smack you the moment you think you’ve got a problem licked, and nowhere has this been as true as in the area of digital copy protection. How long does it take a clever 14-year-old programming genius to crack the latest scheme?

Part of the problem is that locks only tend to keep out honest people. If that were it, that would be okay with me. But too often, copy protection schemes prevent honest people from doing things that they have a right to do, and in some cases, the schemes actually cause harm to the people who are the paying customers who keep the company in business in the first place.

How much trouble can copy protection actually cause? Just ask any Sony Music executive these days how he or she feels about their aborted audio CD copy protection system!