World premier video: The Sequel to CRAP

World premier video: The Sequel to CRAP

Summary: Were you one of the more than 100,000 people that came to ZDNet to watch the movie A load of CRAP?   Well, if you missed it, you're not out of luck.

TOPICS: Open Source

1022ballmer.jpgWere you one of the more than 100,000 people that came to ZDNet to watch the movie A load of CRAP?   Well, if you missed it, you're not out of luck.  My first feature length film (ok, it's only a few minutes) on all that's wrong with proprietary digital rights management (DRM) technology -- what I call CRAP -- will forever be accessible here on ZDNet.  That said, it drew such a large audience that we decided it was time for a follow up.  In this sequel, I step up to the whiteboard once again to illustrate how you're going to want your digital content to be able flow frictionlessly between the various devices that are capable of playing it back (eg: from your computer to your MP3 player to your Oakley sunglasses to your car) but how that can't happen given the direction things are heading.  And, you shouldn't have to worry about where that content originally came  from (ie: Yahoo, iTunes, Napster, etc.)  to figure out whether it's compatible with any of those and other devices.

Even worse, DRM may very well soon become to a document near you, thereby causing even more problems.  In his response to my assertion that he may not fully comprehend the scope of the DRM problem, IBM's director vice president of open source and open standards is right that we should be keeping an eye on how DRM gets applied to documents. Because of the tightly bundled relationship between DRM, formats, and identity, proprietary document DRM could force the hands of users and IT managers into using specific client and infrastructure solutions the way music purchased at the iTunes Music Store forces people to use iPods for mobile playback.  Imagine for example being forced into using a specific document authoring/viewing tool and a specific directory service (or identity management system) because you decided to protect your documents with a proprietary form of DRM.  It could happen.

This is why initiatives such as the Sun-led Open Media Commons are worth paying attention to.  I don't like DRM.  I wish we didn't have to deal with it.  But if we're going to have to deal with it, we need to tear down the proprietary walls that stand in the way of interoperability and choice.

Sooner or later, people are going to wake up to the problems being caused by proprietary forms of DRM.  Hopefully, their aha! moment won't be a personal trainwreck like it has been for some.  If your aha! moment is a personal trainwreck, then make sure you share it with the world so that others can learn from your experience. Here's more on how to do that.

Topic: Open Source

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  • Why proprietary DRM walls?

    As you know, DRM exists at the behest of the content companies. If the companies didn't want it, it would disappear.

    The content companies also set the rules implemented by DRM. If they change the rules, then those rules change, even after purchase.

    So why would a different provider of DRM make a difference?

    You could be in charge of DRM and it would make no difference. Your orders would be: it will be implemented, and you will make it work as you are instructed.

    So discussing "open" DRM seems a distinction without a difference.
    Anton Philidor
    • There is a difference

      DRM can, as you say, put content providers of content policy. For example, they could revoke your license to certain content. Yahoo, for example, revokes your license if and when you decide to stop subscribing to its service. Proprietary DRM (as opposed to just "DRM") puts the proprietor in charge of the devices that will playback the content you have a license to. It amounts to another in a bundle of restrictions.... but it is a different kind of restriction nonetheless.. unrelated to the content policies as determined by the rightsholder.

      • The seller does also set rules...

        ... and that's in addition to, rather than a replacement of the restrictions made or lifted by the content companies.

        But no matter how many organizations have DRM power over media, the software implementing DRM would have to work the same way. All the decisions have to be implemented.

        The only way to prevent DRM control would be a law, and Congressional attitudes now appear to favor greater extension of control (to combat the non-existent effects of file-sharing) rather than less.

        Sometimes it can be hard to tell the difference between a content company restriction and a seller restriction.
        For example, when Apple changes the rules about song copies, even for songs already "sold", is that an Apple restriction or a content company restriction?

        In any case, DRM may be defined as a series of potential restrictions on use of "purchased" material. The software associated with DRM is always only a series of functions. How those functions are used is not under the control of the software company.

        At least when the iPod fades, the way that functionality is supplied will become consistent. With a few small and endangered exceptions, Microsoft is the non-iPod ubiquitous supplier.

        That will resolve one (minor) complication, at least.
        Anton Philidor
    • Re: Why proprietary DRM walls?

      [i]So discussing "open" DRM seems a distinction without a difference.[/i]

      It may, but I'd view open DRM as just one important part of an overall DRM national policy.

      Not only could DRM not tie content to a certian device, I also would get rid of EULAs, or supervise the kinds of terms that can be demanded by a vendor. There should be a national rule for these kinds of transactions, like unilateral revisions are not allowed.

      I know some people will read this and say oh but that's the government sticking its nose into voluntary transactions between marketplace participants.

      Well, I'm sorry, but I'm old enough to have seen more than a few paradigm shifts and one that I [u]don't[/u] like is the proliferation of legal contracts that must be agreed to, sometimes just to get through the day.

      When one party to a transaction is armed with lawyers and one-sided legal documents, and the other side doesn't have the ability to comprehend the offered terms - and just to buy a song, mind you, not a house - then it's time for politics to tap markets on the shoulder and cut in.

      Why, the very act of having this page loaded in your browser "constitutes your binding acceptance of [url=]these Terms[/url], including any modifications that we make," CNET claims.

      How many legal contracts did you agree to today? 50? Just 20 years ago that's how many obligations one would form in a lifetime.

      The belief in the primacy of markets is as useful as the belief in the primacy of politics, and will produce similarly calamitous failures as those we have seen say in the Soviet Union.

      There's nothing wrong with getting the government involved, except to those of us who give primacy to markets on the chance they can become the next Warren Buffett, and who routinely go into a gunfight armed with a knife.

      none none
      • A DRM national policy...

        ... implmented now would likely strengthen the content providers - and sellers, as Mr. Berlind reminded - in their control of uses of material "purchased".

        But even should your views be accepted in the future, the new policies would affect an open or proprietary DRM in the same way. The software implements decision, it doesn't make them. So which organization provides the software is not significant. Open or proprietary, the controllers of DRM will decide what happens.
        Anton Philidor
  • there will never be a universal DRM provider

    This simply because DRM doesn't work. It get cracked by pirates days after release the content is free on the net again. So the market will never settle on standard of DRM that everyone uses as DRM has to evolve to cut of the crackers. Now government could mandate a DRM standard. Like that will work as it will stagnate in time and the industry would shoot it down in second too. It's never ending downward spiral of cost that will run the industry out of business. It's not the piracy that's the problem it's the DRM.

    The movie "Star Wars" had a good quote.

    "The more you tighten your grip, Tarkin, the more star systems will slip through your fingers."

    Apply this to DRM "The more you tight your grip, content providers, the more money the will slip through your fingers."
    • Star wars, DRM wars...

      >the more you tighten your grip....

      well, a standard drm equates to loosening of the grip.

      perhaps the market would go along.

      • Loosening in one manner but not the other

        Even in standard DRM you'd still have the same restriction on the content. All you gain is the ability to use what ever hardware you want. The games being played with DRM would still exist.
    • DRM rules are whatever the content providers...

      ... and sellers (as Mr. Berlind observed) say they are. The rules might be different tomorrow from what they are today, but the source of the control is the same.

      Those are universal rules.

      And all of those rules will be implemented because all DRM is the same, at least in responding to content controller decisions.

      That's universal DRM software, in functionality if not in name tag.

      So the universal DRM provider already exists and has been operating smoothly for some time now.
      Anton Philidor
  • You're dreaming, David

    The whole point of DRM is to prevent interoperation.

    If I can play my copy of [i]Happy Birthday[/i] on a neighbor's system, then there's no practical difference between it and a non-DRM version.

    The fundamental problem is that DRM exists to reduce the value to the customer. The [u]exact[/u] things that you want to do with media (make backups, transfer your library, etc.) are also the exact things that the Content Cartel are bound and determined to prevent.

    Zero-sum game.

    By the way, one of the things you're overlooking about these format wars: transcoding. The DRM incompatibilites hide the fact that all of the formats in question are lossy compressions, and each has its own artifacts. Transcoding between them just means that you now have the artifacts of both.

    The reason I don't bother with MP3, AAC, etc. is because the music I prefer is nearly unlistenable on them. High bitrate OGG is tolerable for auto use, but it's not easy to find a car audio system that plays either OGG or FLAC. Bummer, since I spend a lot of time out of radio range.

    So even if you got a way to move stuff from Google to Apple to MS, you'd lose quality at each step. I leave it to you to decide if that bothers Bill, Steve, and the gang.
    Yagotta B. Kidding
    • Suggestion.

      Try ripping to WMA lossless in Media Player. Assuming you have a Windows machine kept in reserve for those times when you have to work effectively.

      I also use mp3s ripped at 320 to make CDs, but I suspect making that suggestion would not succeed.

      Using OGG shows an exhausted imagination. ;-)
      Anton Philidor
      • Mitigation

        [i]Try ripping to WMA lossless in Media Player.[/i]

        Not much point -- no players. Apparently you haven't tried the available auto decks -- too many friends have found that the <expletive> things are amazingly picky, but not documented.

        [i]Assuming you have a Windows machine kept in reserve for those times when you have to work effectively.[/i]

        Nice dig, but off-target. My work machinery is of necessity Linux, since the tools aren't available for Microsoft platforms. I haven't used Microsoft stuff for anything but taxes since MSWin3.1

        If you want a real rant on the subject, you'll have to start up my (quite nontechnical sociologist) daughter -- she has rather, ummm, [i]interesting[/i] things to say about people who think that you can't do anything without Microsoft. It's convenient because it means that there's no competition in the University computer centers for Macs, but not a very positive indication for the future of the USA.

        [i]I also use mp3s ripped at 320 to make CDs, but I suspect making that suggestion would not succeed.[/i]

        Artifact reduction doesn't solve the problem, just makes it less annoying. I get better results in about a third the space with OGG.
        Yagotta B. Kidding
    • Scope of non-interop

      I agree that fundamentally, DRM is designed to prevent interop. But it the interop it prevents is not what content rightsholders want prevented. It's what technology companies what prevented in an effort to turn the entertainment industry's business problem into profit, perhaps a monopoly. In an effort to prevent unauthorized copying, rightsholders want the wall of interop to stand between identities. Not necessarily devices. For example, if you have all Windows media devices, you can have interop between your Oakley Thumprs, your computer, and your Creative Zen player, and your Motorola Q... as long as you pick playsforsure-compliant devices you get the interop. But don't bring your iPod, your iTunes, or your Rockr phone.

      I'm not suggesting to run out and get nothing but PlaysForSure-compliant devices. You may eventually want something that's not PlaysForSure-compliant that won't work in that world. DRM ended up pervasive because of rightsholders needs. But it's not the way rightsholders wanted it designed.

      • Multiple Interest

        David, I have already pointed this out before that there are multiple interest involved. A some of these interest don't have the same goals and thus the consumer gets a very short end of the stick. In the case of MS and Apple their interest, and primary motivation, for DRM is to lock you into their platforms. If that motivation is taken away they will not create or improve on DRM schemes. Plays for Suren't is not licensed for Mac or any other General purpose OS. MS does license play's for suren't to specific embedded Linux systems, like TiVO, but not for more robust Linux Distros. MS thus gets to lock computer users into Windows. In the case of Apple they get to lock you into using an iPod, or other Apple licensed device, for the iTunes.

        FYI a cross platform Free (As in GPLed) C.R.A.P. system already exists for OGG called Media-S .

        There is no reason for SUN to create anything as it is already created. The problem here is that 1.) nobody wants it and 2.) there are issues in the US with patents (The ability to create any DRM scheme at all is patented and MS and a group of other companies own the patents).
        Edward Meyers
      • Necessarily, no. But it's nice.

        [i]In an effort to prevent unauthorized copying, rightsholders want the wall of interop to stand between identities. Not necessarily devices.[/i]

        They may not [b]necessarily[/b] require non-interoperability between devices, but it's nice if they can get it. After all, as they see it they get to sell the same work more times that way.
        Yagotta B. Kidding
  • Boycott CRAP, support open alternatives

    If more people -- even 20 or 30 percent of us -- would boycott CRAP-peddlers like Apple, and support legal, open alternatives, like, we could make it clear to the media robber barons that we, the consumers, control the market.

    Unfortunately, most of us simply aren't that bright. "We the sheeple", indeed.