The Extra Dimension

The Extra Dimension features deep discussions on how technology intersects with society. Welcome to the heart of the technological convergence.

Digital Rights Management (DRM) and the Problems It Introduces

Episode #27The Fringe #456

If you consume digital media, chances are you have encountered DRM in the past. Join Ian R Buck, Ryan Rampersad, and Brian Mitchell as they discuss why it exists, the many forms it can take, and the problems it introduces.

UPDATE 2019-02-07: In October 2018, the Library of Congress added an exemption to DRM law making it legal for people to break DRM in order to maintain or repair the hardware that they own. Listen to the section about hardware for more information.

Episode Summary

00:00:00 | Update
00:00:25 | Intro
00:01:01 | Definition of DRM
  • Digital Rights Management
  • Restrict usage of proprietary copyrighted works
00:01:44 | Goals of DRM
00:09:32 | DRM in Games and Software
  • Product keys
  • Requiring the disc to be inserted at runtime
  • Tying game to an online account
  • Building the game to download later sections from a server as the player progresses
  • Introducing errors or insurmountable challenges that activate if a copy detects it is illegitimate
00:15:02 | DRM in Ebooks
  • Encrypt file using customer’s username and password
  • Force users to log in through Adobe before they can read the file
00:16:22 | DRM in Video
  • DVDs are encrypted, but the technology developed in 1996 has been cracked for a long time
  • Blu-rays are more difficult
  • Watermarks
  • Streaming
00:21:07 | DRM in Music
  • CDs can be easily ripped
  • CD-ROMs with DRM (don’t conform to the CD standard) were used for a while, but the industry moved away from them
  • Nowadays music purchased digitally comes in standard formats, no DRM
    • Previously iTunes, Napster, Sony, Wal-Mart, etc sold music with DRM
  • Streaming Apple 'On Schedule' to Terminate Music Downloads by 2019
00:25:05 | DRM in Photos
  • Watermarks
  • Releasing low resolution versions of photos
00:26:43 | DRM in Hardware
00:31:11 | Laws and Licensing
    • Outlaws the use or dissemination of technology for circumventing DRM
    • Reverse-engineering of DRM systems is permitted (circumvention necessary to make it interoperable with other software)
    • Exception allowed for research, but it is vague and so is not reassuring to researchers; several high-profile cases of researchers declining to publish their findings out of fear of being prosecuted under DMCA
  • EU Copyright Directive
    • Similar to DMCA, but only applies to offenses with commercial purposes
    • The resale of copyrighted software is permitted
  • The GNU General Public License has a provision that states anyone can break DRM on GPL software without breaking the law
  • Creative Commons prohibits the use of DRM in their Baseline Rights
00:36:18 | Problems with DRM
  • Stifle innovation and competition
    • Increases barriers to people making fair use works
    • Artificially locks people into ecosystems
  • Prevents the consumer from creating backups/accessing the work on their terms
  • Works can become permanently inaccessible if DRM scheme changes or the company goes out of business
  • Pirates find ways around DRM, so the people being harmed are legitimate customers
    • For passive media at the very least, there is always the analog hole
    • Motion picture industry wanted to create legislation to close the analog hole by requiring recording devices to detect when they are recording copyrighted material
    • Can increase piracy rates if legitimate customers are driven away
  • Makes it extremely difficult for libraries to lend out digital content
  • Requiring an online account means there is no recourse for privacy-minded consumers
  • The contents of a user’s library can be changed without their prior knowledge
  • Accelerates hardware obsolescence
  • Even when a work is available cross-platform, DRM often leaves out open platforms
01:00:11 | Outro

Related episodes

  • The Extra Dimension #9: Encryption › The Nexus
  • The Extra Dimension #20: Copyright Law › The Nexus
  • The Extra Dimension #29: The Access Economy and the End of Ownership › The Nexus
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