DRM technology has its first two major trainwrecks

Summary:Sooner or later, it was bound to happen -- a Digital Restrictions Management (DRM) management technology that, by design, often keeps you from consuming that content on devices that use other DRM technologies actually ends up keeping you from consuming content that's protected by it as well.  Talk about a trainwreck.

Sooner or later, it was bound to happen -- a Digital Restrictions Management (DRM) management technology that, by design, often keeps you from consuming that content on devices that use other DRM technologies actually ends up keeping you from consuming content that's protected by it as well.  Talk about a trainwreck. Actually, in this case, we have two trainwrecks in one -- trainwrecks that perfectly demonstrate how proprietary DRM technologies are going to turn the frictionless utopia we should be after into a friction-laden migraine headache.

If you've been following my series on DRM and why we must stop being sheeple and delcare our inDRMpendence before it's too late (it is for some of us already), then you'd also know by now that we're in the midst of a content dumping crisis where some of the digital content we're downloading for free or buying today will only be viewable or playable on certain products tomorrow, while other digital content that we're acquiring will only be viewable/playable on other products.  Imagine for example how upset you'd be if that CD you just purchased worked in your boombox, but not in your car. On its current course, that's where the world today's DRM technologies are leading us right now.  It's a repeat of the VHS vs. Betamax war only far worse because of the way multiple proprietary/incompatible technologies have been successful at simultaneously penetrating the market. 

But going back to the VHS vs. Betamax war, imagine if you had a VHS machine and a bunch of VHS tapes and everything was working and then suddenly, after upgrading your VHS machine at the manufacturer's suggestion, your VHS tapes stopped working.  Much the same way VHS tapes only work in VHS machines (and not Betamax machines), content wrapped in Microsoft's DRM technology only works in devices that are compliant with that technology.  For example music purchased from Yahoo!'s Music Store (which recently doubled its prices) only works where Microsoft's playback and DRM technologies live together (ie: Windows Media Player or a PlaysforSure-compliant device).  But DRM is software (complex software at that) and like all software, it is affected by upgrades.  And when complex software is affected by upgrades, sometimes, things that once worked, stop working.

Judging by Microsoft's MSDN Web site, this is apparently happening to some users of Microsoft's Media Center solutions.  According to a blog entry by Aaron Stebner:

I have heard of several folks running into issues playing protected content (such as purchased songs/movies, or HBO television shows) after installing Update Rollup 2 for Media Center 2005.  As I described here, Update Rollup 2 installs an updated Digital Rights Management (DRM) redistributable package.  We are still investigating reports of content protection problems in order to identify root causes and provide fixes.  In the meantime, I wanted to offer some suggestions.

Remediation involves resetting the DRM system and points to an entry in the Microsoft Knowledge Base that lists the necessary steps entitled The Windows Media Digital Rights Management system may not work if your computer hardware changes.  Check it out.  Can you imagine Grandma doing this?  Perhaps it should be called "If anything can go wrong with DRM technology, it will".  So, trainwreck #1 is where, in addition to making sure your content doesn't work on incompatible devices, now the DRM technology keeps the content from working on compatible ones.  This was bound to happen and it will happen again.  After all, with DRM-breaking technlogies like those of the Hymn Project and United Virtualities on the loose, DRM technologies will have to be like anti-virus technologies -- staying one step ahead of the hackers and forcing people to upgrade their gear in the process.

Trainwreck #2 is where, in Stebner's blog, it says that before you reset your DRM, you'll need to backup your content licenses through a feature called "Manage Licenses." Manage licenses?  You've got to be kidding.  So, not only will DRM technology restrict where and when I can enjoy my content, I may have to manage my licenses to that content as well?  But wait, it gets better.  Stebner goes onto say

Some license issuers will not allow you to store backups of their license files....However, if you use these steps to reset the DRM system and do not have backup copies of your licenses, you will lose the ability to play any previously acquired protected content.  If you have content that you do not want to lose, I would encourage you to wait until we can identify and post a fix.  

Wait? In other words, forget my content until there's a real fix?

This is no joke folks.  I couldn't make this stuff up if I tried.  Stop the insanity.  Declare inDRMpendence.

Topics: CXO

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.

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Related Stories

The best of ZDNet, delivered

You have been successfully signed up. To sign up for more newsletters or to manage your account, visit the Newsletter Subscription Center.
Subscription failed.