Abundance of DRM trainwrecks make them worth tracking. You can help.

Abundance of DRM trainwrecks make them worth tracking. You can help.

Summary: Speaking of lists worth keeping, I'm going to start collecting examples of real-world DRM trainwrecks in hopes of better making the point that most people don't realize how much they're giving up when they consciously or sub-consciously use solutions that depend on it.  I get a lot of email that accuses me of being a Chicken Little that overblows the situation by saying the sky is falling.

TOPICS: Telcos

Speaking of lists worth keeping, I'm going to start collecting examples of real-world DRM trainwrecks in hopes of better making the point that most people don't realize how much they're giving up when they consciously or sub-consciously use solutions that depend on it.  I get a lot of email that accuses me of being a Chicken Little that overblows the situation by saying the sky is falling.  Well, the sky is falling and if those folks want to live in denial, that's their problem. The technology makes it possible for content providers to change the terms and/or deactivate the content... So, to put a real face on the problem, I'm turning to the blogosphere to help me build the list and to del.icio.us to store it.  There's a real opportunity here for the community to work together for the benefit of end-users as well as for the Internet which could end up stove-piped if the world continues down the DRM path that it's on. 

So far, I've reported on a handful of trainwrecks here on ZDNet.  For most people, the biggest of these is probably the Sony BMG CD rootkit fiasco.  What started as one trainwreck snowballed into others as the initial remedies introduced even more problems. Perhaps more interesting though are the trainwrecks where the fallibility of DRM technology or post-agreement switcheroos (enforced through DRM) left users with a really bad taste in their mouths. 

In the fallibility category, the three examples that come to mind are (1) the one involving Microsoft's DRM where some users were forced to back-rev the DRM drivers in Windows and restore their DRM-protected content from backup because of how such back-revving wipes protected content out, (2) a bug that mysteriously activated some DRM-backed content revocation features found in TiVo devices, and (3) what could happen to your entire music collection if the system you run iTunes on craches.  

In the Microsoft back-revving case, just the laborious recovery process alone is a trainwreck unto itself.  Unfortunately, with that version of Microsoft's DRM (and maybe others, I don't know), content licensors can deactivate your ability to back-up any content you've acquired from them.  In other words, if for any reason you're forced to restore DRM protected content, some of it may be irrecoverable without paying again.  One "incident," two trainwrecks. 

Another notable trainwreck in the fallibility category turned up when a TiVo user was notified on his television that an espisode of King of the Hill that he had recorded could not be kept indefinitely "due to a policy set by the copyright holder."  A similar problem with the Simpsons was supposedly traced to a bug. But the quality of the artificacts (there's no way the aforementioned language is a bug) makes it clear that the hooks to revoke rights and remotely delete content are present in the technologies we're using.

Then, there was the widely reported and linked-to post by Rex Hammock who chronicled how his co-worker lost of all her music because she didn't have it backed up.  This is one reason Navio's approach to DRM is the lesser of many evils. Navio keeps track of everything you have acquired the rights to.  If you have some sort of catastrophic crash and lose all of your music, videos, or whatever other content you may have acquired through Navio, it shouldn't be a problem.  Navio's "memory" means you can get it back without having to worry about becoming an IT person and running backups.

In the "sorry, we're changing the rules on you" switcheroo category, three standouts are Apple's reduction of the number of CDs you can burn from an iTunes playlist from 10 to 7 and the near-doubling of the monthly price of Yahoo!'s music subscription service, and a pass-the-buck version of the switcheroo where an ISP was apparently forced by content licensors to deactivate content that its customers had already paid for.  Proving that such changes can sometimes work in your favor, Apple raised the maximum number of PCs that could be associated with an iTunes account (aka "authorized") in 2004.  And, in all fairness, Yahoo's initial price of $6.99 was apparently advertised as a special promotional price to draw subscribers in.

But, regardless of whether the restrictions are being added or lifted, or whether prices are justifiably getting changed, the technology (in the Yahoo case, Microsoft's DRM) makes it possible for content providers to change the terms and/or deactivate the content if you don't go along with those changes. This lesser understood fact about DRM shouldn't be lost on end-users who often enter into those agreements not knowing the extent to which they're passing the controls of the content they acquire over to another party.

OK. Back to the list.  I've come to the realization that when it comes to the DRM nightmare, nothing works better than examples and since no master list of all the DRM trainwrecks exist, we might as well leverage the collaborative power of social networking technologies and build one.  So, to start the list off, I've created a tag in del.icio.us called DRMtrainwrecks and have started to populate it with links to proof points of the pernicious nature of digital rights management technology.  Please join me in populating del.icio.us with links tagged with the DRMtrainwrecks tag and maybe together we can amass the evidence that some people need to get a better picture of the future that lies ahead if something isn't done and done soon to change the course of history. Then, monitor that tag using its RSS feed and any time something of interest turns up, blog it, and tag it appropriately. This is your opportunity to use the Web's social networking technologies to participate in a worthy cause with people you don't even know.

Topic: Telcos

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  • 0wnz problem

    one problem that has not been talked about much is the user-agreement that comes with most DRM software/media. the agreement eventually ends up saying that whatever rights you have can be revoked. we don't guarantee anything. terms and conditions can change in the future. with this kind of a contract statement, the DRM service providers have a free hand to do whatever they wish.

    as long as such agreements provide a blanket cover to media publishing corporations, they will keep doing all kinds of nonsense.

    DRM - now literally means the digital rights of the corporations on media purchased by individuals; rather than the other way around. DRM should give an individual rights on the media he has paid-for, and not the other way around.
    • Message has been deleted.

  • Oh, for Crying out loud

    You're whining about the fact that iTunes doesn't let your burn more than 7 UNPROTECTED CDs from the same playlist? Why would you need to burn more than one? It's faster to just copy the first CD you burned to makes as many additional copies as you wanted.

    When you have to engage in disinformation to support your argument, you're a zealot, and zealots are boring.
    • It's not the # of burns that's the issue...

      You're missing the point. It's the fact that, with the technology, the rightsholder/distributor is usually free to change the rules on you and there's nothing you can do about it. It went from 10 to 7. Can it go to 5? 3? 1? I'm not saying it will. But you get the picture. # of burns is just one example of how the rules can suddenly change. As I wrote in the original post, there are others. So, the switcheroo is the problem in the big picture. Not the current state of some proviso.

      • I predict...

        ...a MASSIVE amount of mea culpas (mea culpae? I don't speak Latin) from the likes of baggins_z [b][i]when[/i][/b] Apple decide that you don't actually need to burn UNPROTECTYED CDs of the music you've "bought" and paid for, for whatever reason.

        Of course, by the time that happens we'll have a new generation of baggins_z Macfreaks, iTunes fanboys and DRM apologists asking "who uses CDs nowadays?!"
  • How about Alpha-DVD?

    Back in February, Heise Online reported about a malicious DRM found on the German version of the "Mr. and Mrs. Smith" DVD. What made it so malicious is the fact that it actively impairs CD/DVD ripping not only while a protected disc is inserted, but also ripping in general. The DRM also hid itself by using inconspicuous names, like "win32k2.exe" and "msxhtml.exe", making manual uninstallation difficult. Here's the link to the story:


    Even though it only happened in Germany, it looks like a DRM trainwreck to me. David, what do you think?
    Tony Agudo
    • Looks like a trainwreck to me

      Please post it to del.icio.us and tag it under DRMtrainwrecks. Thanks for bringing it to my attention. The idea here is that the problem is too big for one or two people to take ownership. We all have to take ownership if we want things to change. Adn you have to tell two friends and so on. Kind of like paying it forward.

      • Done and Done, David!

        Tony Agudo
  • fair use

    I feel that all you have described violates our fair use rights. Why hasn't a group such EFF sued these people to assert these rights?
    • Well there are

      I am glad I have a way around any protection scheme they have found . . Takes a bit of time but I have it done and re done my way . .
      • Yes, Those ways=friction

        Friction is being added to a system that could and should be frictionless. Isn't it a sad state of affairs when the technology is so much more capable, but greed is standing in the way of you getting to that capability, eating up your valuable resources (eg: time). I don't know about you. But the last thing I want to do with what little free time I have is overcome friction which doesn't have to be there.

    • Definition of fair use

      Unfortunately, a lot of people are confused about the definition of fair use. DRM may stand in the way of fair use. But fair use is probably not what you're thinking of (if you're thinking that you paid for the content and you should be able to do with it what you want and not have it revoked).

  • And people wonder why !

    And people wonder why I won't upgrade some things !
    And I use Windows 2000 and have shut off Microsoft's
    ability to screw with my computer or O/S at all have every port Microsoft left open shut down tight with my fire wall
  • NEVER trust Microsoft!

    Repeat that five times every day! Mr. Gates was/is a MARKETING genius and nothing more! That means he set out to make LOTS of money and that means taking yours. There is not one Microsoft product that can stand on it's own. You need to get/buy something else to make it work! More than this, people, just don't use DRM! I can guarantee you are going to need to add something to your music player to make it sound good! We ought to start just not using Microsoft products as much as possible!
    • Don't trust Apple either...

      Jobs is a businessman, a marketing genius who could charm the snakes from the pit and is also the smuggest man on the face of the planet (IMHO).

      He is successfully charging a fortune for what is becoming no more than an Intel powered PC running FreeBSD with added proprietary bells and whistles and an MP3 player that still doesn't have features that I actually look for in an MP3 player. He's the finest snake-oil salesman the world has seen, he's even got me tempted.

      Apple products don't stand on their own... that's why you're forced into buying the whole bundle.

      No DRM == No iPods, you can't boycott Microsoft for this reason and switch to the Mac... Apple are just as bad... if not worse.
  • Great initiative

    The DRMtrainwrecks tag is a great idea. I'll try to assist every time I come across one - I've blogged about a few examples plus other stories about 'architectures of control' designed into products and systems at http://architectures.danlockton.co.uk
  • boycott

    I realize that my course of action will require some actual effort by a large number of the sheep pretending that they are people, but this is about entertainment, something that is not a necessity. If you boycott the DRM makers for a few weeks, including new movies, rentals, all DVD's new music etc, the problem will go away.

    But my suspicision is that the vast majority of the current generation of entertainment consumers would use DRM even if it required that they stick a 6" long monitoring device up their butts to listen to their music or watch their movies.
    • I hate the word "consumer"

      There are far too many people who are unaware of what DRM means or what it is.

      This treatment of the people paying their bills began when companies stopped referring to us as "customers" - ie ones who choose to bring our custom to their door - and started referring to us as "consumers" - is mindless swallowers of whatever our snouts can get from the trough.

      Sadly we prove them right far too many times.
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