Imagine a world without DRM

Imagine a world without DRM

Summary: The anti-DRM movement wants to boycott or ban all restrictions on your rights to use digital content. It's a topic I expect to discuss with a lot of people at CES next week. How would a world without DRM work? What would happen to the cable and satellite TV industries, to movie and TV producers, to software manufacturers?

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TOPICS: Nasa / Space
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I've been wrestling this week with some of the fundamental philosophical questions behind digital rights management (DRM). It's one of the topics I expect to discuss with a lot of people in the digital media industry at CES next week. Specifically, I'm wondering if the anti-DRM forces have really thought about how a world without DRM would work.

Let's take my esteemed colleague David Berlind, who says that DRM should more properly be called CRAP, which is short for Content Restriction, Annulment and Protection. In his witty presentation, A load of C.R.A.P., David ends with a call to action:

Stop buying this CRAP. Don't buy any technology that has CRAP in it, because all it's going to do is make it impossible for you to take the content that you're paying good money for and play it anywhere you want.
Richard Stallman, founder of the Free Software Foundation, has gone even further, telling Forbes.com in an interview last year that " DRM ought to be prohibited by law..." And there are lots of people who agree with that take-no-prisoners outlook.

I'm not a fan of DRM, but I use it all the time when dealing with digital media in my everyday life. So please, help me understand how the following businesses would work in a world where DRM didn't exist:

Satellite TV. If I buy a dish, put it on my roof, and aim it at a satellite in geosynchronous orbit, should I be able to access everything being transmitted from that satellite? Currently, those broadcasts are protected by strong encryption, and I can only view the content by hooking up a decoder box that contains a conditional access card with a unique ID tied to my account. Sounds like DRM to me. If DRM were illegal, how would my satellite provider know I was a paying customer?

Premium cable/satellite programming. HBO, Showtime, and a host of similar companies have built businesses around premium content, for which their customers (like me) pay a monthly subscription charge. Cable and satellite companies act as their agents. The premium content goes out over the cable or comes down from the satellite in encrypted format, and I can only watch it if I have a digital set-top box that decodes it - a process that is controlled by a conditional access card or CableCARD. Isn't that DRM? Without it, how would HBO be able to deliver access only to paying customers?

Pay Per View movies. My cable and satellite companies both stream recent movies over designated channels in encrypted format. If I agree to pay a fee, they'll send a signal to my set-top box authorizing the box to decrypt the signal for me. Now those same services are being offered over the Internet, so that I can download a recent movie and play it back on my PC or TV without having to go to the video rental store. A PPV movie costs a few dollars, but without encryption I could burn it to a DVD, which typically costs $20 or more. Without encryption and authentication - in other words, DRM - how would those services survive?

Software. An increasing number of companies (not just Microsoft) deliver software in a form that requires a unique product ID and activation over the Internet or via the telephone. The process creates a unique installation ID that dictates your right to use a specific digital product. Isn't this DRM? Should software activation be banned and all software made freely installable on any computer without any license checks at all?

I'm seriously looking for answers to these questions. The "ban DRM" movement doesn't seem to take these business models into account at all, and a "stop using CRAP" boycott would eliminate many products and services that use DRM in a way that isn't as obvious as it is with downloaded music.

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Topic: Nasa / Space

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139 comments
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  • World without DRM

    I think it would be a great place to live.

    What big business tends to forget is that people will pay for the content anyway. The consumer knows that without making money there isn't any reason to produce content.

    I buy DVD movies all the time. I have programs that allow me to easily decrypt them. I only decrypt my movies to allow me to have a backup. I use the backup for my daily movie viewing and to keep the originals safe.

    Why do I do this you ask?

    I have small children in my house. DVD + children = dead DVD

    I would love being able to just backup my movies and other digital content with a 1 to 1 copy. No DRM would allow me to do this.

    The peak of CD music sells was during the hayday of Napster. Funny that!
    dragosani
  • well..

    Some of the more extreme and vocal members of the Anti-DRM movement are also extreme and vocal members of the FSF and would quite like to see your arguement applied to its logical conclusion as far as software is concerned.

    DRM (or licencing as its commonly known) is very necessary in this world.

    I think the main issue with DRM is that it is often applied in situations where the majority believe that they are purchasing media rather than licencing it.

    I personally avoid DRMed music cause I don't want the grief, however I am quite happy to subscribe to SKY TV.
    nmh
  • Ed - I think your examples are all wrong

    Your examples are not DRM as such. For instance, TV via satellite or cable are encrypted for subscribers but you're not BUYING the program to put aside and watch later or to play back on a different TV. If you packaged the programs and tried flogging in a Sunday market it's doubtful it would be worth your while.

    Music OTOH is bought by people who want to play it on different machines in different places and at different times. That is fundamentally different from TV were, by and large, people GO TO the telly sit down and watch.

    Music is played at your convenience but TV is "played" at the station's convenience and people are used to that.

    Most people would rate a broadcast as low value and lots of people miss programs they don't want to see but it rarely bothers them which show how little such things are valued. Fans of a series want to buy the DVD/Videos and build a collection.

    DRM is unnecessary. Since the debut of the video recorder 20 years I know of no broadcaster who has gone out of business because people videoed its programs. Perfectly good profits exist without DRM.
    bportlock
    • People pay to watch TV...

      ... when they want. Think TiVO and other means of recording programs. They also share programs over the internet, which aggravates the content providers. Even more aggravating to them, people use these devices to watch programs without the commercials to fund the original broadcast.

      My view?

      I don't pay for not watching television. No cable.

      If there's anything worth watching, I'll buy it on DVD for less than a month's basic subscription costs.

      So we're back at DVDs again.
      Anton Philidor
      • I've considered doing that too

        Now it only I can get my wife to agree. She's reality TV junky so I doubt that will work.
        voska
      • Nobody really wants to

        watch commercials.

        [B]"Even more aggravating to them, people use these devices to watch programs without the commercials to fund the original broadcast."/[B]

        I find them annoying and stupid. Especially all the cholesterol and sex meds now being peddled on the air waves. I thought Cable tv was supposed to allow a subscriber to watch TV without the ads. At least is used to be that way. But once again greed.

        [B]"If there's anything worth watching, I'll buy it on DVD for less than a month's basic subscription costs."[/B]
        Netflix is probably one of the best ideas I have seen yet. I use it and although I do have cable (gotta watch Myth Busters, Dirty Jobs and the History Channel!) I rarely watch it. Too many commercials. I have done some (non-scientific of course) home studies and found that of a 30 minute program the viewer actually watches about 16-18 minutes of commercials. And a 1 hour program ammounts to about 32-35 minutes. So what's the point of watching a program when it's interrupted all the time?

        Case in point, Myth Busters last night, 30 minute program. By my watch I actually say 11 minutes of program and the remaining 19 minutes were with the TV muted.
        Linux User 147560
      • Nobody really wants to

        watch commercials.

        [B]"Even more aggravating to them, people use these devices to watch programs without the commercials to fund the original broadcast."[/B]

        I find them annoying and stupid. Especially all the cholesterol and sex meds now being peddled on the air waves. I thought Cable tv was supposed to allow a subscriber to watch TV without the ads. At least is used to be that way. But once again greed.

        [B]"If there's anything worth watching, I'll buy it on DVD for less than a month's basic subscription costs."[/B]
        Netflix is probably one of the best ideas I have seen yet. I use it and although I do have cable (gotta watch Myth Busters, Dirty Jobs and the History Channel!) I rarely watch it. Too many commercials. I have done some (non-scientific of course) home studies and found that of a 30 minute program the viewer actually watches about 16-18 minutes of commercials. And a 1 hour program ammounts to about 32-35 minutes. So what's the point of watching a program when it's interrupted all the time?

        Case in point, Myth Busters last night, 30 minute program. By my watch I actually say 11 minutes of program and the remaining 19 minutes were with the TV muted.
        Linux User 147560
        • Ouch! (O/T)

          [i]"Myth Busters last night, 30 minute program. By my watch I actually say 11 minutes of program and the remaining 19 minutes were with the TV muted."[i]

          That's really gross. We get American imports in the UK and even on the commerical channels we see the "fades" where the US adverts go, but I never realised it was more advert than program. Normally on a 30 minute slot there are 2 mins of adverts halfway through and another 2 minutes at the end. So that's 25 minutes or program 4 minutes of ads and the remaining space for continuity announcers.
          bportlock
          • Thief!

            [i]That's really gross. We get American imports in the UK and even on the commerical channels we see the "fades" where the US adverts go, but I never realised it was more advert than program. Normally on a 30 minute slot there are 2 mins of adverts halfway through and another 2 minutes at the end. So that's 25 minutes or program 4 minutes of ads and the remaining space for continuity announcers.[/i]

            You do realize that by not watching your ration of ads, you're stealing from the rightful owners of your eyes?
            Yagotta B. Kidding
  • That's not DRM

    Encyrpting a signal is not DRM. Encypting a DVD is DRM. Seems simple enough to me.

    Think about it for a second. The pipe is not the content. If I can't connect to the pipe because say I didn't pay my satalite bill then that's not DRM. It's not different than if I fail to pay my ISP for the internet I don't get internet Access. That has nothing to do with DRM.

    What DRM does is makes it so I can do something I legally could before. Like if I buy a DVD from Australia I can't play it in my DVD player. The encryption on the content stops me.

    Say I download a movie with DRM. I can do so over a encrypted connection. Now I have the movie but it will only play on the PC I downloaded it to, that's DRM. I could just as easily download an non-DRM movie over the same encrypted connection. Now the gate keeper to those movies asks me to pay to make said encrypted connection to thier server.
    voska
    • I don't understand

      The content is encrypted at the head-end of my cable company or it's encrypted on the disk. In either case, it has to go through a pipe to get to a local decryption device, which then sends it to the output defined by that decryption device. Besides the length of the pipe, what's the difference?
      Ed Bott
      • Just to clarify the discussion...

        ... if an encrypted signal is decrypted by a decoder and then I can watch the program on whatever TV I want or I can video it then DRM is not involved.

        If an encrypted signal is decrypted by a decoder and then I can watch the program only a specified device and I cannot video it or record it then DRM is involved.

        Encryption is not DRM.
        bportlock
        • Encryption is DRM

          just at a different layer. What if I want to build my own decoder box? Like your 'watch on any TV', I want to decode directly into my computer.
          Just because you personally don't care about that layer doesn't mean its not rights management. Going forward, we will see that layer (the cable/satellite box) being used to force additional DRM downstream (think downscaling HD if it detects a recorder).
          mdemuth
          • I don't agree with you...

            ... because after the decryption there is no enforcement of what I do with the decoded signal. There are no special hardware requirements - for instance I do not have to have a Sony TV because it won't work on a Samsung.

            If there is no management of what I *do* with the decoded signal then there is no DRM.
            bportlock
          • Kind of symantecs

            you could say the same thing about iTunes; once you are playing the song through an authenticated device(iPod), what you do with that sound is up to you.
            It all depends on what layer is most convenient for your uses.

            Also remember that DRM is not a specific 'thing'. Its an entire system, from production to consumption. Holding the keys upstream allows you to dictate terms downstream.
            mdemuth
          • You can tell this is a tech site....

            ....when somebody uses the name "Symantec" instead of the word "semantics"
            http://www.symantec.com/index.htm
            tic swayback
          • LOL, I didn't even notice that

            A tech site indeed. LOL
            voska
          • There is management of what you do.

            Your Samsung versus Sony TV is a red herring. You can only watch that content on the satellite or cable box that decoded it. If it is high definition content it will only play on a HDCP output in high definition. If you hook that HDCP output to a device that records content it is down scaled.
            ShadeTree
          • DRM is not encryption

            DRM is another layer that can use encryption.

            Take the broadcast flag, it's not ecryption but it is DRM. Right now I can digital cable box to get digital channels that I can record with out DRM. The Broadcast flag is DRM built into the digital cable box that will restrict what I can do with that recording.

            Same with I-Tunes. The connection to I-Tunes can be controlled (encrytion or just authentication) that allow me to download a song if I pay for it. That is not DRM. The file I download has DRM which restricts me from doing certain thing with the downloaded song.

            Same with a store. If I buy a CD with DRM the store is not the DRM. I still have to buy the CD and the store has measures in place like cameras, those security beepers that have to be disabled and such. That is not DRM. The DRM is on the CD. How I get the content is not a DRM issue, what I can do with the content after I get is where DRM comes into play.
            voska
          • Sort of. But encryption is DRM.

            DRM is management of digital content. It isn't a layer but a ecosystem of security and control. Encryption falls under the domain of DRM as one of many tools to manage content. The broadcast flag is another DRM tool. So is physical access to the receiver. Or the splitter that needs a barrel wrench to install at the pedestal.

            iTunes is DRM. So is permission to access the file after you pay for it. So is name and password. Anything that manages content on who gets to watch or hear it is DRM. In the past it was DRM lite.

            What you object to and a lot of others, is DRM industrial or the (enigma machine). DRMing the content itself making it very hard to circumvent it. That content has encryption in it and you have to have the keys to unlock it. So encryption is DRM. Just another tool in DRM's arsenal. Don't like the policy, boycott the content. Works for me.
            osreinstall