Best description of the intractable state of the DRM state

Best description of the intractable state of the DRM state

Summary: Over on Digital Media Thoughts, contributing editor Jeremy Charette and friends are tearing apart the problem I'm having playing 99 cent downloads on my $20,000 whole home entertainment system.

TOPICS: Hardware

Over on Digital Media Thoughts, contributing editor Jeremy Charette and friends are tearing apart the problem I'm having playing 99 cent downloads on my $20,000 whole home entertainment system.  I thought this quote, found in one of the comments, offers what could be the best description of how and why the current state of the digital rights management state is an intractable one:

What makes it intractable is that the two camps are entrenched and completely uninterested in any level of compromise: the EFF crowd is philosophically opposed to *any* content controls, (even on private corporate systems for internal use!) while the content providers are convinced every customer is dead-set on redistributing their content for free on the internet the moment they get their hands on it. Not much to be done there or any hope of resolution any time soon. If anything, things are going to get worse now that politicians are getting involved in the DRM-standards debate. Expect things to get worse before they start to get better.

Also, bear in mind that I'm using the commonly accepted expansion of the acronym DRM out of convention, not belief.  The "R" in DRM, many anti-DRM activists argue, does not stand for "rights" because, they argue, the technology strips users of their rights.   Also, before you take the quote's characterization of either "party" at face value, please understand that I don't have any confirmation from officials or executives representing either side.  Nevertheless, if the picture this paints is that the two sides are worlds apart without any hope of a compromise, that's the perception and the feeling I'm getting, too.  In terms of some of what is said about my problem, I responded with some answers in the comments area of Charette's post.

[Update: Redmonk's Stephen O'Grady has a good post on why DRM is going to get worse, and may not get better.  A lot of people have been questioning the $20,000 worth of audio gear bit.  This has so far been a project that has spanned more than two years and that started at the infrastructure level of pulling all sorts of wire through the walls of my house.  That alone has so far accounted for about half the project's cost since, for each room, there are are wires going to specific speaker locations as well as to a location near each room's light switch where controllers that reach back to the centralized entertainment system are located.  The wiring includes monster cable audio wiring as well as Category 5 twisted pair for hard-wired Ethernet.  I'll leave out the details of why I did both, but it serves my needs for regular Internet access as well as some A/V needs. 

The wire itself wasn't that expensive.  Pulling it through the walls and terminating it was.  That's why, if you're building a house, I recommend doing this before the walls go up.  The savings can be significant since you can probably do a lot of the work yourself (most home builders don't have a clue how to build a digital home).   The actual gear, including its installation (connection to speakers, TVs, control panels, etc.) has so far accounted for the second half of the cost.  So, in total, it's not even $10,000 worth of gear. A goodly portion of the second half is the labor involved in installing and testing everything. 

Still, to me, the entire "system" -- at $20,000 so far -- should be able to play whatever music I buy from whatever source I want.  It can't.]

Topic: Hardware

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  • Don't build with wire!

    Please -- don't advise people to put wire in the walls on building a new house. Conduit is the only long-term way to go, and it's dirt cheap.

    My 23-year-old house was prewired for networking, but it wasn't rigged with conduit. Needless to say, it wasn't CAT6 wiring. Now that I'm upgrading to CAT6, the old stuff is still there and I'm having to pull out the CAT5 that I laboriously rigged in addition.
    Yagotta B. Kidding
    • Trust in Martha

      This reminds me of an interview Rem Koolhaus did a few years ago
      in Wired with Martha Stewart. In it, she talked about Bill Gates
      spending millions of dollars to run all sorts of wires through the
      walls of his new house, and how, with the advent of wireless, it was
      now all obsolete. Meanwhile, her 1890's farmhouse worked just as
      great as it always had....
      tic swayback
    • thanks for the clarification

      you're right... always go with conduit if you can.
  • Confirmation

    ---The "R" in DRM, many anti-DRM activists argue, does not
    stand for "rights" because, they argue, the technology strips
    users of their rights. Also, before you take the quote's
    characterization of either "party" at face value, please
    understand that I don't have any confirmation from officials or
    executives representing either side---

    Well, consider the recent speech given by Cory Doctorow to the
    HP research group confirmation:

    "Last week, many TiVo owners discovered that several of the
    and cable shows they received with their PVRs could not be
    indefinitely, and would be automatically deleted after a set

    Last year, Comcast PVR owners discovered that all their stored
    episodes of Six Feet Under were deleted a few weeks before the
    came out.

    The right to store your music and movies, the right to watch
    movies in any country you find yourself in, the right to timeshift
    space-shift, the right to re-sell, the right to loan, the right to
    share your media with your family regardless of your familial
    arrangements -- these rights all belong to the public. Copyright
    reserves these rights from control by rightsholders.

    DRM is a mechanism for unbalancing copyright, for betraying
    statutory limitations on copyright, for undermining the law itself.
    granting rightsholders the ability to unilaterally confiscate public
    rights under copyright, DRM takes value out of the public's
    pocket and
    delivers it to rightsholders.

    When you acquire a car, you acquire the right to charge your
    phone off
    its cigarette lighter. No car owner has to assign that right to you.
    Even if the car manufacturer thinks it can make big bucks by
    the exclusive right to charge phones in its car to Nokia, nothing
    prevents you from charging your Motorola phone from the

    More complex are the rights reserved to the public under the
    banner of
    fair use. Fair use is the copyright doctrine that allows users to
    uses *even if the rightsholder objects*. For example, critics,
    parodists, educators, archivists and disabled people all have
    rights to use copyrighted works without the permission from
    rightsholders. In order for a DRM system to permit you to
    extract some
    video for the purposes of making a parody, but stop you from
    this for the purposes of burning the movie to a CD and selling it
    eBay, the DRM system has to be capable of reading your mind
    determining why you want to make your use."

    Also be sure to check out the end of the talk, where he makes
    suggestions to HP about business strategies they should
    consider regarding DRM:


    HP is under no obligation to play by the entertainment industry's
    rules in order to gain access to content. Format-shifting,
    time-shifting and space-shifting are legal practices with long
    honorable traditions (indeed, Apple's own iTunes software
    contains a
    mechanism to format- and space-shift your CDs by ripping
    them to MP3,
    as does Microsoft's Media Player).

    However, when tech companies seek a closer relationship with
    entrainment industry, they find themselves in the position of
    to offer means for restricting the use of their products in ways
    the market generally rejects -- no end-user buys products
    because of
    their DRM.

    The worst-case scenario is to end up in a situation like the
    Blu-Ray/DVD-HD wars. The two consortia responsible for these
    formats are competing to please the entertainment industry by
    more and more onerous restrictions to their technologies,
    that raise the manufacturing costs while reducing the
    viability of their products.

    HP need not follow this disastrous strategy. Practically every
    in the field has one or more analog outputs. It is both possible
    legal to connect digital recording devices to these outputs and
    legal near-perfect digital copies that can be played back and
    manipulated on devices without Hollywood's blessing. Devices
    such as
    the Slingbox, the Orb, and Mythtv all do this today.

    These devices play perfectly to the core strengths of the tech
    telecoms industry. PC vendors who provide flexible set-top
    boxes that
    ease the pain of recording and librarying AV material will create
    markets for ever-more-capable set-top boxes that have larger
    larger storage capacities, as well as backup solutions, service
    troubleshooting, etc...

    I can hardly fault HP for embracing the received wisdom on DRM.
    However, the received wisdom is rarely a path to commercial
    In the global marketplace, HP has numerous competitors, from
    giants to
    smaller, nimbler firms -- and if any company has an
    appreciation of
    the potential of two guys in a garage, it should be this one.

    The question isn't *whether* one of these companies will defect
    the DRM game, but *when*. The first to market with better,
    powerful, more capable devices will emerge the clear winner.

    I don't believe HP can afford to sit tight and hope that the
    agreement not to anger Hollywood will hold."
    tic swayback
  • The probelm for content providers is only takes *one* to distribute content worldwide and rapidly. (Not to defend them because their business model stinks, anyway.)
    • scalabilty works for and..

      against you if you're a copyright holder to bits.
      • But you see...

        ...that's why current copyright laws may be insufficient to deal with the issues raised by modern technology. Copyright law was established in an earlier, less technical age, when it was not easy to copy books and there was no way to make exact copies of music. As technology has changed, copyright law has become more and more outdated.

        The answer is not to apply antiquated copyright laws to modern technology; the answer is to rethink the whole issue of copyright in terms of modern technology.

        Carl Rapson
  • DRM {and/or/vs} the Law

    This paper is slightly old, but the topic is still very relevant. It appeared in a journal of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM):

    The big point is that DRM is not about stopping piracy, but rather, about changing the value proposition. People who don't want to talk about stealing wealth will use the term "new business models" instead. DRM proponents want to nickle-and-dime you to death by forcing you to pay per use. They want pay-per-use to be the standard business model, preferably at the same or even higher prices than today.

    It is a shifting, or redistribution, of value from the consumer to the producer. You simply will get less for your money than you get today. That is the ultimate goal of Digital Restrictions Management schemes.

    Root User
    • Clarification...

      When I wrote "The big point is that DRM is not about stopping piracy" in the above post, that's my take on the issue. I'm not summarizing the paper, which talks about a related issue.
      Root User
      • DRM is about taking control away from end-users

        And as this FAQ written by a professor of security engineering at Cambridge University points out, not only do they want a pay-per-use scheme, they want computers to no longer be user-programmable machines.

        Instead, they want pc's to be more like a Sony Playstation that can run Microsoft Office. The manufacturer and content distributors control the programming, not end-users.

        Some of you may say, thats ridiculous, no consumer would ever go for it. Yet, its already begun.

        Microsoft and Sony have already more than hinted that their consoles are going to be more than gaming machines, and would include internet access and office applications.

        Other devices, such as Ipods, PDA's and Mobile phones are expanding their features to include activities currently performed on PCs.

        Other companies are talking about building computers specific to certain rooms of the house, such as the kitchen PC. Do you really think the Kitchen PC is just going to be a regular computer with some special software?? No, it will be like a console, except rather than using it for gaming, you use it for kitchen stuff.

        We are well on our way to losing user-programmable computers.
  • Correct..... "RIGHTS" is an inappropriate word

    Calling it "Digital Rights Management" is indeed a misnomer unless you consider only the "rights" of publishers. From the consumer end, it should be "Digital Repression Management". We have to pay good money for a computer so various groups of weasels can control what we do with it. Pretty pathetic.