Another real world example of why DRM is evil

Summary:One of the lesser discussed but equally troubling evils of digital rights management technology is what I call the "DRM switcheroo."  The DRM switcheroo is where the person or company sitting at the DRM controls over the content you've accumulated under one set of rules switches to a new set of rules.

One of the lesser discussed but equally troubling evils of digital rights management technology is what I call the "DRM switcheroo."  The DRM switcheroo is where the person or company sitting at the DRM controls over the content you've accumulated under one set of rules switches to a new set of rules.  What, you don't like the rules? Tough noogies.  Because such DRM controls exist, content licensors and providers can pretty much decide to have their way with the content you think you have a right to use.   The switcheroo is also explained with some examples here. But today, a ZDNet reader that goes by the nickname of tombalablomba, has written to me via email with his own switcheroo tale of woe.  According to the Netherlands-based reader:

Here is something concerning DRM or C.R.A.P. as you call it that might interest you, as it definitely shows what could happen.....I'll first try to outline what we've got over here in the Netherlands. As broadband penetration has been pretty high and the competition concerning broad band is very high, most of these providers have been providing additional services. So has mine (Planet Internet) as well. One of these services is called music stream which basically delivers music downloads etc. via a shop run by LoudEye.

There services they provide are as follows:

  • Stream: Listen once
  • Download: Download only usable on your PC
  • Download+: In addition to PC, works on PD, CD or digital media player
  • Fragment: Free 30 secs of a number

Planet Internet provides me with 1000 credits per month to buy or listen to music as I please (you can buy 1 CD for that price). Today I got an email from my provider that the record companies have decided to drop the download versions of the service. I've always preferred the download+ method (it's more expensive but I can burn a CD and then convert it to my favorite format). What is absolutely idiotic is the following sentence: (I'll first provide the Dutch version and then translate it for you assuming you can't read Dutch):

Wat betekent dit precies?
maatschappijen ondersteunen uw licentie voor het gebruik van deze optie niet meer. Dit betekent dat u de muziek die u eerder via deze optie heeft gedownload mogelijk niet meer kunt afspelen. Het is ons wel gelukt om met de maatschappijen de afspraak te maken dat deze muziek in ieder geval nog tot 1 januari 2007 voor u beschikbaar blijft.

What is the impact?
Companies no longer support the license for usage of this option (download). This could mean that you possibly can't play the music anymore which you have previously bought via this option. We were able to make an agreement with the companies to make it possible to use the music until January 1st 2007.

I would say that they're making an absolute case for totally getting rid of the DRM as they are actually taking away the possibility to listen to the music you've legally bought. It might have been bought via a cheap method, but legally, you where entitled to listen to it on your PC.  The only possible means to still listen to your [downloaded] music would actually mean that you've got to disconnect your PC from the Net as then they won't be able to update the licensed files (assuming that they have not already done so). 

The idiocy of course is that you've bought a product which the seller than decides he doesn't want to support anymore and then revokes your license using DRM.

Some of what happened here is apparently happening to users of other ISPs (see Dutch Legal DRM Music No Longer Playable). When readers write to me to tell me to stop whining about DRM because the people who buy DRM-enabled products like iPods know what they're getting into, I routinely reply "No, they don't and it's not until they encounter a personal DRM trainwreck that they'll realize the world they've actually helped to build."  This story couldn't be a more perfect example of how most consumers aren't aware of just how much control those working the levers of DRM infrastructures have,  how the terms can quickly and almost arbitrarily change, and why there's a risk of financial loss associated with products and services that involve DRM.  When it comes to DRM, most people are like sheep being led to slaughter.  Thus, We the sheeple.

That's why this story is getting added to my list of DRM trainwrecks -- a list I'm keeping on del.icio.us and a list that I hope you'll join me in building for the sake of compiling the mountain of evidence that people apparently need to see before they'll be convinced of the pernicious nature of DRM.

Topics: Legal

About

David Berlind was fomerly the executive editor of ZDNet. David holds a BBA in Computer Information Systems. Prior to becoming a tech journalist in 1991, David was an IT manager.

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