Another real world example of why DRM is evil

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 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.

Topic: Legal

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  • DRMed DVD problems

    I have a CD (Ray) which has some kind of DRM protection on it. So whenever i play it back on my computer (not RIP, just play) - i hear very irritating clicks and noises in the audio track. The noise is present when I play back the CD on my portable mp3 player. I tried ripping the track into MP3, but the clicks were still persistent. It doesn't happen when i playback the same CD on my audio player at home. So essentially, I am tied down with this CD which I can only use at home - i can't use it at office or elsewhere. Looks like they're *asking* me to download pirated MP3s!!

    This guy over here had similar problems with his DRMed DVD:
    • Trainwreck added to

      Thanks for this URL. I added it to the list of DRMtrainwrecks being tracked on This of course falls into another category of trainwreck, the one where, if you have the know-how and tools to remedy a technical problem (in this case, a Dolby incompatibility), there shouldn't be an obstacle like DRM to overcome in order to apply that remedy.

      Again, thanks. And please, if you're following this thread and you know of some documented trainwrecks out there, please post them to using the tag "DRMtrainwrecks." you can go to to see the ones that I and others have posted there so far. This issue is too big for one person to cover or log. So, I'm hoping that this can be a community effort.
    • RE : DRMed DVD problems

      I doubt it. If you read the fine print before you buy, it probably says you are licensed only for the computer or device that you downloaded to.

      Next time look for "triple play downloads" - its the necessary licensing you get with the downloaded music that you need to play it anywhere you want. Intel, Microsoft and Loudeye have them now. Go to

      Loudeye. com (symbol LOUDD, nasdaq)

      - - -, works on cell, pc, and handheld.

      And LOUDD will be a part of the Vista MSFT platform and also part of the ViiV Intel platform.

      You can get confirmation of all that on the loudeye .com website.

      downloads go thru loudeye, uk

      • re: DRMed DVD problems

        Just return the stupid DVD. Problem solved. Get your money back. Once the idiots in charge figure out that no one is buying their crap, they stop selling you crippled content.

        I also say don't support any of the companies that are pushing these stupid schemes. Most of the time they are just selling you music that has been compressed so much that I wonder why anyone would bother?
  • It's behavior like this that encourages copyright infringement

    All it takes is for those in the entertainment industry to burn a customer once and that gives them all the justification for a little payback.

    In this world of P2P music being so easily available in an illegal manner it's surprising that the entertainment industry would bloody the nose of one of thier own loyal customers. These are people who chose to pay for thier content in legal manner when the illegal product was right there free of charge and they chose to pay even though the legal product has more restrictions than the illegal product. Why on earth would the entertainment industry abuse these customers? It's got to be pure stupidity.

    I know if I bought 50 CDs worth of music via downloads to find the agreement changed year after buying them which made they product next to worthless I'd be hitting the torrents the very next day and not buying music from thier service anymore.
    • Objective is to stop music downloads.

      The RIAA companies have hated the internet distribution channel since it began. No reason, a major opportunity for additional profits, but not the choice of company executives.

      So anything that makes downloads more difficult and aggravating only makes you more likely to buy the way you should. Assuming you're honest and judicious enough not to join a large percentage of the world population and download p2p.

      In this case, honesty is appeasement.
      Anton Philidor
      • The best reason in the world

        [i]The RIAA companies have hated the internet distribution channel since it began. No reason, a major opportunity for additional profits, but not the choice of company executives.[/i]

        Give them credit for some brains.

        They have the best reason in the world: survival. Their whole business model depends on them being the few, the powerful, the gatekeepers who control the "Star maker machinery behind the popular song."

        You want popular music? You have to deal with them, on their terms.

        You want to be a popular musician? You have to deal with them, on their terms.

        The second is actually the more powerful. They [i]own[/i] the musicians -- read the blogs of any number who've tried to escape. Besides the financial power it gives them, there's a whole lot of personal perks involved too.

        Internet distribution has the potential to make them redundant, no matter [i]how[/i] it's arranged. They [u]must[/u] stop it; if they don't, there's really no reason why musicians can't deal directly with Apple and actually get some of the money.
        Yagotta B. Kidding
        • Promotion is expensive.

          Yes, some people sell CDs in the lobby after the concert. And it's possible for a new musician on the internet to give his music away or be the 2,386th listing in a column labeled Other.

          The internet is only a distribution channel; it's not a replacement for promotion.

          By the way, I think being heard is only one part of successful promotion. Another major effort is telling many people in a mass audience that what they're hearing is good.

          The work of creating adulation never stops.
          Anton Philidor
          • Internet is also a promotion channel

            The download service is only a tiny part of the internet and it really plays a very small part in distribution.

            The rest of the intenet is also great for promotion. You can have websites devoted to fans, concerts, merchandise and such. There are chat rooms, newgroups, email lists, internet radio and so much more.

            A good example of this in the pre-internet days is grunge music from the late 80s and early 90s. It started by tape swapping. The major record labels didn't even clue into this movement till 1993 when is begining to die out. It's this single act of tape swapping groups trading on mass in all the colleges and universities that brought you acts you'd have never heard in the first place like Nirvanna, Pearl Jam and Nine Inch Nails to name a few. Just imagine how this phenomenom would have worked with the internet. I'd say it'd be a million times bigger. That's exactly what the major labels fear. Right now we are in musical lull very much like the mid 80s with nothing but cardboard cut out bands (hair bands back then). Things are going to change like they did back then and when it does it will happen so fast the entertainment industry will be left empty handed wondering what happened.

            In the mean time they are just adding fuel to that pile of dry timber by implementing DRM and pissing off thier customer base. They are giving more reason to musicians to avoid aligning themselves with the corporations and they are causing consumers to look elsewhere for there music be it legal or illegal.
          • The groups you name...

            ... all had contracts with record companies. You describe the labels resuscitating a type of music which was dying out, making it more popular than it was in its heyday. That proves a point opposite to the one you intended.

            I'll assert that the RIAA companies are the cause of popularity.
            Anton Philidor
          • That's just nothing short of laughable

            So which RIAA company do YOU work for? They do not create popular music. That's exactly the reason they feel so self important, the notion that they drive the world and not the music itself. If they went away your contention is that there would be no popular music. That's nothing short of laughable.
          • Look at the soundtrack for "High School Musical"

            This movie never got a single bit of radio airtime except for Radio Disney. It made number 1 on the billboard charts record breakingly fast. Mostly from downloads. I won't get into all the particulars. It broke all kinds of records.

            The success of this soundtrack is a pretty good argument that there are viable alternatives to the standard label distribution system.

            I think this is only the beginning. I can't wait to start seeing 'label free' web clearing houses for the artists to market their product.
          • Payola is expensive

            Fixed the Subject line for ya.
            It costs a lot of money to bri^H^H^H buy radio station air time. And you <b>criminals</b> who use mp3 files instead of buying the Label's DRM infected files are just terrorists.
            (It's true. The record companies are terrified.)
        • I agree with you now but not in the longer term!

          I agree with you now but not in the longer term! As I said in my post "As with prohibition, DRM's day will eventually come. It'll be forced out of business when it's realised that the masses are fundamentally against such a ludicrous scheme and thus will always be fighting it."

          Moreover, the human condition is not, nor has it never been, attuned to the ownership of intangible non-physical objects such as software, music, concepts, ideas etc. by individuals or corporations That's why there will always be a tension between the copyright holder and the user until this matter is properly and fairly resolved. For example, most people fundamentally object to the billions that Microsoft has made out of something that's not physical and which can't be weighed or measured. Piracy is so high because many believe, correctly or otherwise, that Microsoft has gotten its wealth by some form of ill-gotten means and thus it's fair game--for however else could so much money be made by so few so quickly. Yes, clearly saving money is one incentive for piracy but I suggest to you that it's often not the main reason, which is that humans have a hell of a time conceptualizing the value in software (it's the same reason why humans are so notoriously bad at conceptualizing exponential growth).

          The fact that people don't think this way about cars, television sets, or houses tells us that information cannot be treated in the same way as physical objects. When the copyright moguls caballed their way around Berne in 1896 and shafted the ordinary world with their International Copyright Convention they got away with it only because the conceptual notion of copyright at that time was essentially a printed book in physical form. The notion that the Berne Convention would have been ratified by member states (countries) would have been absurd had it been based on the current concept of intellectual property rights as we now understand them today. These robber barons may have managed to pass such a notion at the Convention but's that about as far as it would have gone as countries wouldn't have ratified it. They did so was that copyright was synonymous with 'printed book--the thought of copyrighting a gene sequence or similar would have been preposterous at that time.

          As the laws of entropy dictate, information, like heat will eventually equalize to a common level. These opportunist who artificially propped up the copyright barriers in1896 can only hold this potential leveling energy off for so long. They've now done so for one 110 years, however, what we're witnessing now is the beginning of the end of copyright as we know it.

          Finally, I cannot end without saying there is a fundamental problem in equating copyright issues with those of artists and authors being paid their dues. In reality, these are two separate issues and they would not be in conflict if other structures, financial and otherwise, were in place. Suffice to say, the solution is too big a topic to even discuss here let alone arrive as a consensus. Nevertheless, it doesn't include the copyright moguls but it does definitely include those artists and authors being paid reasonable dues for their efforts.

          It may take another 50 years or so to resolve these issues but it will certainly happen, if for no other reason that side two of the equation--society--now reckons it has a stake in the copyright debate. After 100 years, society is regrouping by stating that not only does it consume and pay for the fruits of any development in intellectual property, but also that the foundations of all intellectual property ideas start from within with society. In essence, Intellectual Property ideas have their beginnings within society and they are fundamentally rooted there, hence has society some say in the matter. There is now an understanding that society is already the repository for most of the intellectual knowledge that's been imparted to the copyright holder by way of education, socialising and by giving him or her a privileged position within society from where the copyright holder can develop his ideas. Therefore, when the copyright holder sells the value added intellectual property back to society, it is then society will 'charge' him or her for the knowledge that society has already imparted into them. Society will also contend that the Intellectual Property, which is offered back to it for a price, will always be small when comparted to the total sum of knowledge that's already been imparted into the individual to get him or her into the position where he or she can offer incremental improvement back to society.

          The main issue that remains is how to implement this change without too much bloodshed.
      • Nope, objective is to maximize their $$$$

        The RIAA exists to make money, period.

        The real problem with P2P isn't that people are pirating stuff - they did that before, and there's no evidence that it harms sales (in fact it probably helps them).

        No, the real proble with P2P is that people can hear stuff [b]before[/b] they buy. Gone are the days when the RIAA could produce a hit MTV video and use it to sell you a $18 CD with one good track and a load of padding.

        It's all about control. P2P puts the control in the hands of the consumers. It means they might have to get off their fat backsides and actually do work to earn your money, and that hurts.
    • Not copyright infringement at all...

      It's self help securing property we have bought and paid for.
    • I am for Copyright Infrigment

      I always have been. And thanks to DRM the digital underground is stronger than ever. This only supports what I have been saying from the beginning. It is Only Digital Rights Management for them and has nothing to do with protecting our rights. It has made a strong impact here. If you buy into the load of c.r.a.p they are selling, then you deserve to have your I-Pod reduced to a useless pile of slag. Just what till you have the DRM delete all your music or protect you from using on your new car digital stereo and you can't play music that you bought. What does it matter in the end the Armageddon starts tomorrow 6-6-6
      DRM 666 forehead tattoos will be issued to all I-pod users with legal music they bought over and over and over again.
  • Reason for modifying: calibration.

    The RIAA companies might be vulnerable legally if they didn't permit downloads at all. And the sellers of the music, who operate on thin margins because of the exorbitant content company license fees, do have to make sales.

    But at the same time, the content companies want to be as restrictive as possible, preventing use of the internet distribution channel as much as they can.

    So the objective for changing the rules is to identify the spot at which people are aggravated, but not enough for them to drop the service in such significant numbers that the content companies end up in Court. On the complaint of customers or resellers or both.

    So restrictions tighten. Complaints arise from customers and sellers. Restrictions loosen.

    Very complex game, whose purpose is to make a sales category fail without being blamed legally.
    Anton Philidor
    • OK...up to a point...

      If you know up front what the deal is. The problem is that they changed the rules AFTER he bought it. It would be like you buying a car specifically for your commute to work via some Interstate freeway and then the auto manufacturer deciding that the speeds on Interstates are excessive for that design, and you need to upgrade to another model, so they withdraw their warranty (and your insurance company tells you they'll cancel if you do drive it at that speed.)

      Damn, I hate them car analogies! Say, didn't GM run into this with the Corvair? ;-)
      • Media permissions

        Once you buy something you own it. Good, simple idea, but frequently incorrect. In order to place restrictions, it's necessary to prevent ownership, and that's frequently in the agreement.

        A better example is whether a car rental company can install sensors and determine where and how fast you're driving. That would be unpopular with more people than the form of use prevention we're discussing. At least until as many people try restricted uses for their music as drive too fast.

        And if people did get angry, the irritant would be withdrawn. That's part of the ability to make modifications after the fact, too.
        Anton Philidor