Engadget editorial on DRM completely misses the point

Engadget editorial on DRM completely misses the point

Summary: Stephen Speicher has posted an editorial on Engadget that makes it sound as if the reason there's so much opposition to DRM is that people want the freedom to pirate content.  The title of the post is Digital Content: Why the sense of entitlement.

TOPICS: Mobility

Stephen Speicher has posted an editorial on Engadget that makes it sound as if the reason there's so much opposition to DRM is that people want the freedom to pirate content.  The title of the post is Digital Content: Why the sense of entitlement. Wrote Speicher:

There is something that I've never really understood when it comes to the digital entertainment debate. That is: where do people get their sense of entitlement with regard to content?....After all, it's not really our content. At the end of the day if that's how content owners choose to sell it, isn't that their right?...Somewhere along the line people started to lose perspective in this whole DRM debate....for some odd reason, people determined that they were the ones who should choose what was right and wrong when it came to the buying and selling entertainment content. Instead of the all-too-familiar set of rules for selling goods (i.e. the seller and the buyer mutually agree on the terms of sale; if either of the parties doesn't agree, there is no transfer of goods) consumers felt perfectly justified in writing their own personal rules....Law-abiding, moral people do things with entertainment content that they wouldn't dream of doing with physical goods. Can you imagine walking into a restaurant which you knew to be overpriced, eating, and then leaving without paying just because the you felt the place was a rip-off and not worth the prices they charged? Worse yet, can you imagine doing it the next day also?.....Yet people feel no such compunction about appropriating media content without paying anyone for it.

That's where he lost me. It reminds me of the Net Neutrality debate where the arguments (both for and against) have been distorted by people who haven't been paying close enough attention to the details. Somehow, others catch on to these distorted views and eventually, the truth has a much harder time rising above the noise.

Stephen, the majority of the people who voice opposition to DRM, including me, have no intention of misappropriating anyone's content.  You're absolutely right in noting some of the existing practices of piracy that take place on behalf of some unscrupulous individuals.  But those who oppose DRM are not asking for new rules that wouldn't otherwise apply.  We're asking that the baby not get thrown-out with the bathwater. The rules used to be that you'd buy a record, a cassette, or a CD and you'd be able to use them in any device that was designed to work with those mediums.

With DRM, the rules were actually changed on us (not the other way around). Now, we buy the same content we were buying before, but in the new medium of digital bits (as opposed to vinyl, tape, or CDs). But the one problem is that we can't take those bits and use them on any device designed to work with bits. It's the equivalent of having to buy one Fleetwood Mac CD for your car, one for home stereo, one for your boom box, etc. Those are different rules if you ask me.  It wasn't us copyright-respecting people that have no interest in emulating your "friend who buys music via an online store and then immediately torrents 'clean' copies" that came up with these new rules.

Spiecher goes onto say:

The obvious answer is that people have no respect for goods where the marginal cost of production is zero or close to it. It doesn't matter that work went into its production. It doesn't matter that the sales of current goods pay for development of future goods. It seems to only matter what production costs. And, of course, what the consumer's self-proclaimed set of rules are.

It's a convenient vetting of the cost issue to support his argument but completely ignores some of the other efficiencies gained by the new ecosystem. In the old physical goods ecosystem (which still exists), content owners bear the cost of manufacturing, packaging, and retail channel support.  In many industries (I don't know about the entertainment business), retail channel support is actually the most expensive item. That's not to say that some of the costs mentioned above (production, advertising, etc.) aren't real. But let's be honest. As the world completes its shift to bits (as it did from other media), entertainment companies will begin to recognize significant savings.  In fact, I would argue that it's DRM that's stalling the death of the existing media types (like CDs).  Sure, retail stores should and can exist. But why must it involve physical media? 

Why shouldn't you be able to walk into a "record store", listen to some music or watch some videos at a kiosk designed for that very application, make your selections, pay with your credit card (or cash), and have the content downloaded to your device right there on the spot? Think of the benefits.  All that shipping that's avoided.  All that packaging that's harmful to mother Earth eliminated.  Less square footage to operate a retail outlet and ultimately less energy costs.  The main reason we can't do this today is because of DRM.

In fairness, Spiechert acknowledges he may be missing some points and asks for feedback regarding his opinion (delivered!). But, so as not to propogate distortions of the truth, I would have rather just seen the questions without the commentary.  Yes, there are pirates out there and I agree that it's a thorny issue.  But patting every customer down in a head-to-toe airport-security like frisking is simply not the answer.

Thanks to ZDNet reader Steven Ackerman for the pointer.  

Topic: Mobility

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  • Sense and nonsense.

    Sense: it's appropriate to object to DRM when restrictions on use are greater than those applied to the same material obtained through other means of distribution.

    Nonsense: That the digital distribution channel will replace all others.


    Without physical objects to examine, browsing is more difficult.

    Materials packed with a CD can be of value to purchasers. Also applies tom extras on a DVD.

    Doesn't happen every time, but in some cases albums are intended as a specific set played in a particular order. Even apparent filler is meaningful.
    People should have the option of purchasing the entirety of something as intended. And though such can happen with digital distribution, knowing about it is more difficult.

    Some observations about your contention:

    "In the old physical goods ecosystem (which still exists),

    [is primary, and there is no indication it will not remain so]

    content owners bear the cost of manufacturing, packaging, and retail channel support. In many industries (I don't know about the entertainment business), retail channel support is actually the most expensive item.

    [Yes, good to have a salesman on premises encouraging sale of your material.]

    That's not to say that some of the costs mentioned above (production, advertising, etc.) aren't real. But let's be honest. As the world completes its shift to bits (as it did from other media), entertainment companies will begin to recognize significant savings.

    [Given the cost of materials, production is probably about as irrelevant a factor in the cost structure as the artist.
    The real costs go for obtaining buyers.]

    In fact, I would argue that it's DRM that's stalling the death of the existing media types (like CDs).

    [Most people do not, I expect, know about DRM and have had no experience which would lead to dissatisfaction with DRM.
    In addition, this is a push-pull situatioon, in which the DRM controllers advance and retreat with the response.
    Think of the current level of outrage as muted. Very muted.]

    Sure, retail stores should and can exist. But why must it involve physical media?"

    Ahm... because that's what they sell in retail stores?

    I agree with you in your criticisms of DRM.
    Effective expression criticism is factual, reasonable, and deals with likely scenarios.
    Just suggesting adjustments.
    Anton Philidor
  • Cue No Ax

    Countdown to No Ax blaming the law abiding victims here for not forming vigilante lynching parties and stopping piracy ourselves--10....9...8...7...

    A couple of good articles on copyright and DRM for further review:




    Now, compare Amazon in the above article to Neuros, a company that actually gets it:
    tic swayback
  • This person missed the boat

    Do these people not realize that pirates don't care about DRM as the can bypass easily.

    It's people like me that fork out money for products that have DRM only to find I can't even use the product and I have no recourse to return said unusable product.

    So to extend and example. Yeah I might go into a restaurant that I know is over priced and I might think it's ripoff. But when I pay for two burgers and get only one burger after leaving damn rights I'll be upset and I have every right to be. That's what happens with DRM.

    The thing that people like Speicher don't get is that I have about two dozen other things I can spend my entertainment dollar on. So DRM all the content you want I won't buy it. Pirates will still pirate and you will be with out customers.
  • Outside of the piracy bit...

    ... I am in 100% agreement with the original article.

    If you do not like the terms of sale, do not buy it. It is that simple. I do not like homeowner's associations. I will not live in a house subject to one, regardless of the price or how nice it is, more or less for the same reasons that you are anti-DRM (how dare you tell me what my mailbox can look like, or dictate to me the physical appearance of my cars?).

    Like one of the previous posters, I prefer CDs and I refuse to purchase any non-physical content (DRMed or not) because I put value in having the whole package. I do not listen to songs, I listen to albums. I like getting the liner notes (I even read the "thanks to..." parts, because it is interesting to see the connections"), I like getting the lyrics sheet, I like the cover art, I like the entire experience of a CD. I like the filler stuff between songs. Some CDs make no sense without the filler stuff. Some albums cannot have songs taken out of the contect of the entire album (listen to [i]Operation: Mindcrime[/i] by Queensryche if you do not beleive me on this). and so on and so on.

    I for one will always be willing to pay a premium for a full CD or DVD.

    Personally, I beleive that the real mistake is in the pricing. The company sold you a crippled (via DRM) copy of content, of lower quality than the CD or DVD version, minus the features that a CD or DVD comes with, and when priced out for a whole album, is nearly the exact same price! Meanwhile, the distributor saves big bucks on supporting the retail channel or producing a physical product. I would be mad under those circumstances too!

    I think that if you were paying 10 - 25 cents per song, and/or provided with a bulk discount, and/or were sent a physical CD or DVD if you bought all of the stuff on that disk (now there's an idea: basically, when you buy a CD or DVD, they let you download the content immediately, as well as shipping you a physical product!), you probably would not be so mad about this.

    Until then, either put up with their onerous terms, or walk away from DRMed content. In a nutshell, you are driving down the highway and complaining about the speed limit or traffic laws.

    Justin James
    • What is this filler between songs

      All my CDs just have a slight pause between songs. A have Nirvanna CD that does have this skipping sound between the last song listed on the CD and after 99 skips a secret songs plays.
      • Ah the old "hidden" track

        For some reason bands decided this was a funny and clever thing to do (there's one on a Beck cd and several on a cd by Cracker as well). I find it incredibly annoying, particularly if you're listening to a bunch of cd's shuffled. You get silent track after silent track. I think it was just artists trying to be cute, but hopefully by now they're realized what a stupid idea it was.
        tic swayback
      • Re: "Filler"

        That song (if you are referring to the [i]Nevermind[/i] album, which I beleive you are) is indeed a full song, "Endless Nameless". "Filler" is a bit different from a "hidden track". For example, on the Tool album [i]Undertow[/i], there is a lot of white noise followed by some odd rantings at the end of the album. However, the white noise actually has a purpose, which is to create some interesting numerology with the track numbers and album length. Likewise, the self-titled album from Mr. Bungle is *filled* with stuff in between songs which is only apparent when played at rediculously high volumes (as in, "those kids better turn down that stereo!" levels), and it adds a lot of "flavor" to the album. I didn't even catch it the first few dozen times I heard that album. Things like that are why I will always prefer the CD/DVD format, because that is the type of thing that tends to get "lost in translation."

        Justin James
    • On another point

      While you are correct I can and I do choose not to buy because of DRM. But this means I do with out new music too. CDs come with the stuff now as well, I have one coaster that won't play on my high end sound system. The only place it plays is in my car's cheap factory CD player.

      I have to take issue with your comments about keeping quiet and just don't buy. I personally will tell whom ever it is why I'm not buying. I will complain about it lots too. I choose not to buy but if the seller is clueless to why I'm not buying the problem never gets fixed. If I'm complaining about the crazy DRM then they know instead of just assuming people might not like the content.
      • The squeaky wheel gets the grease

        The more we can let companies know our desires as buyers, the more it is possible for them to meet our needs.
        tic swayback
      • I can see that point

        Voska -

        I can see your point there. I would definitely suggest sending your thoughts on it to the media companies as well as just posting here, if you do not already. I just think that "voting with my dollars" is just as effective. Every time (at least once a week, I may add) that I go to the music shop and buy a CD, I am telling the retailers and record companies that I do NOT support DRMed content!

        Justin James
        • I send a e-mails

          And I don't buy. I'm not sure if works but I did notice that my complaints along with a few hundred thousand others did get Lucas to release the theatrical version of StarWars. I've also noticed that price of many box sets of DVD are dropping.

          One complaint that I sent to Universal was about thier blatant rip-off with the BSG Season 2.0 and 2.5 for $50 each. $100 for a season of TV and it's only 20 episodes instead or 26 like other shows. And I picked up Season one with the miniseries for $38. I bitched Universal out over that one. I'm not buying but I will if the price every comes down to something reasonable.
    • A big problem with this approach

      [i]terms of sale,[/i]

      All of the TOSes that I have seen allow the seller to unilaterally change the terms at their will ,including not to allow you to play your purchased music. The UnBox TOS even requires you to upgrade the software reflecting the DRM enforcement of their changes or else your purchased content won't play.

      Explain to me why anyone would agree to that?

      The answer is they wouldn't if they knew those were the terms. Your everyday Joe isn't going to sort through a multitude of pages of legalese typed in a 10 point font, let alone understand it, just to purchase a $0.99 track. They are just going to click right on through that.

      The other thing is that almost all DRM schemes take away rights of the consumer, in particular the long held consumer right of Doctrine of First Sale (Exhaustion of rights is the term used in other countries for those not in the US ). Under first sale doctrine I buy a copyrighted work then I have the right to resell or giveaway/otherwise dispose of my particular copy once you sell it to me, your rights of distribution end once you sell that copy. DRM prevents this. Even if I were to fill a USB drive full of music from a digital store, remove it from my computer, then sell it/give it away to someone they would not be able to play those files as the DRM would prevent it.

      The fact that copyright law has had these limitations and exceptions is not new. Many of these exceptions have been in place for 100s of years, some dating back to the Statute of Anne (The very first full-fledged copyright law dating to 1710). Any seller of these goods should be well aware that those limitations exist... then why are they trying to sell a product that uses DRM to circumvent them?
      Edward Meyers
      • Specific examples

        Here's a couple of good examples of companies changing the terms of service after a purchase, and the inherent dangers:


        It's well and good to talk about transparency and disclosure and
        consent, but a major problem with DRMs has been their
        "renewability" or "revocability." That is the ability of DRMs to
        change the deal after you buy your media. For example, iTunes 4.0
        let you stream your music from home to your work PC. iTunes 4.0.1
        took that away. TiVos recently had a�non-discretionary update
        applied to them that added Macrovision restrictions, so that they
        were transformed from Betamax-ruling-compliant devices that could
        record any show aired to more constrained devices that could only
        record shows that weren't flagged as "NO-RECORD." (Note that the
        MPAA proposed this as an alternative to the Betamax ruling in the
        80s, and were rejected by courts and Congress -- what they could
        not accomplish through legislation, they've achieved by sneakily
        crippling devices that are already in the field.).

        All new DRMs are being designed to be "renewable." The Sony PSP
        was repeatedly patched to force users to� stop running their own
        software on their devices. BluRay and HD-DVD are both built
        around a "renewability" system that can shut down devices. The
        Broadcast Flag ruling provided for renewability to�disable
        consumers' property on the grounds that if someone, somewhere
        figured out how to use a DVD burner to circumvent the flag, all
        innocent users of that burner should be punished to get at the
        guilty. This week, Microsoft issued its fastest-ever OS patch to
        remove a DRM crack that users applied in order to make lawful
        uses of the content they owned.

        What kind of disclosure is sufficient here? What constitutes
        transparency? "This device will do the following five things and
        restrict you from the following eight things. However, at any
        time in the future, without your consent, a secret commercial
        body with closed membership and meetings may shut down any of
        this device's features, with no appeal."
        tic swayback
  • Three best DRM related quotes ever...

    And they are both in a ZDNet article interviewing folks at the British Library:


    1. [i]If we allow companies to create their own licenses, we undermine copyright law. If we say contract law is more important than copyright law, it allows publishers to write whatever license they like, which is what is happening now."[/i]

    2. [i]Unless there is a serious updating of copyright law to recognize the changing technological environment, the law becomes an ass," Lynne Brindley, chief executive of the British Library, told ZDNet UK.[/i]

    3.[i] "DRM is a technical device, but it's being used in an all-embracing sense. It can't be circumvented for disabled access or preservation, and the technology doesn't expire (as traditional copyright does). In effect, it's overriding exceptions to copyright law...This is a global, international issue," Brindley said. "We have to have the same balance as in traditional print. We are seeking a triage ensuring creators are rewarded but also that the public good is served."[/i]

    That about sums it all up.

    This is not some "long-haired" half crazed individual posting on the internet nor some "paranoid" misguided individual whom wants to do away with DRM nor are these quotes from some individual who wishes to "pirate" materials . These quotes are from the chief executive of the British Library, a highly respectable institution that greatly values copyright.
    Edward Meyers
    • Underming copyright laws

      What I see here is that the content holders themselves are undermining the very copyright law they hold so dear to thier hearts. The cash cow they have milked for so long in danger of being killed by those who benifit the most from it.

      They will push people to break the law. "A law that the majority doesn't follow and that is virtually unenforceable is no law at all"; Law 101. Couple that with people who will just move on to other forms of entertainment and that's the end of these corporations.

      So when people will have no option other than to break the law to enjoy the content like they did in thier childhood that's when the whole system will collapse. Kiss copyrights good-by as they will be destroyed by people on both sides showing nothing but contempt for the law.
      • The UnBox TOS for a good example

        This one is particularly bad.


        Some of the more dubious of the terms;

        1. You leave the US you can't play your movies.
        2. You must allow Amazon the right to continuously run spyware on your computer. If they think you did something naughty they take away your movies.
        3. this ones so unbelievable I'm going quote it:

        [i]The Software automatically checks for upgrades, but the Software will not automatically upgrade without your consent, except as provided herein. If you do not consent to an upgrade that we make subject to your consent, the Digital Content may no longer be viewed on your Authorized Device. You must keep the Software on your Authorized Device current in order to continue to use the Service. We may automatically upgrade the Software when we believe such upgrade is appropriate to comply with law, enforce this Agreement, or protect the rights, safety or property of Amazon, our content providers, users, or others[/i]

        4. They claim the right to monitor what you watch for marketing purposes.

        5. If you uninstall the software they claim the right to delete all your movies.

        6. You are only allowed to watch your movies in your house or office. You are not allowed to watch them specifically in; hotel rooms, motel rooms, hospital patient rooms, restaurants, bars, prisons, barracks, or drilling rigs.

        7. You are only allowed to view your rented movies on 1 device within 24 hour period no latter than 30 days after you download.

        8. You are not allowed to transfer ownership of the movies you "purchase".

        9. Amazon will send you commercials and you have to watch them. You can't keep the good ones though.

        10. Oh yes my favorite... Amazon's end of the contract isn't worth the digital ink it's written on.

        [i]Section c. If Amazon changes any part of the Service or modifies license terms applicable to Rental Digital Content or Purchased Digital Content, which it may do in its sole discretion, you acknowledge that you may not be able to access, view, or use Digital Content in the same manner as prior to such changes, and you agree that Amazon shall have no liability to you in such case. [/i]
        Edward Meyers
        • The best part is...

          Non-IT People won't care until they all start getting burned by it.
          • But once they get burned

            They will be very vocal about being burnt. Anton is right. The current level of outrage is very very muted. Just wait to Joe and Jane everyday consumer starts getting burnt.... Then we'll see outrage.
            Edward Meyers
  • Your mention of net neutrality

    Reminds of something very funny I wrote today on another blog.

    The Georgia Christian Coalition head said she split from the national group because it took the "liberal" position on net neutrality.


    Ironically, Georgia director Sadie Fields said, it was an issue far from religion that caused the final split. The issue was net neutrality, the principle that phone and cable giants should not be able to shake-down Web sites to provide access to customers. The group found itself fighting for net neutrality alongside liberal groups like Moveon, and this rankled Fields.

    "They were taking a liberal position on net neutrality compared to what the conservatives are saying should be done," Fields told the Associated Press. So will the new group have BellSouth in a front pew?