Google engineer: DRM has nothing to do with piracy

Google engineer: DRM has nothing to do with piracy

Summary: A Google engineer claims that DRM is not about thwarting piracy, but giving content providers control over software and hardware providers.


Is DRM really about controlling piracy, or does it serve a different function altogether?

In a Google+ conversation, Google engineer Ian Hickson argues that digital rights management (DRM), often found embedded within products including DVDs and eBooks to prevent unauthorized copying or use, is not in place to protect firms from the prevalence of piracy.

Instead, Hickson argues that this belief is based on "faulty logic," and it is actually used as a tool to give content providers power over playback device manufacturers, as distributors cannot legally distribute copyrighted material without permission from the content provider. So, those who offer media, including games and film, gain leverage in how the files can be used and shared, as well as the means to tap into additional revenue streams. 

Hickson provides some cases related to his arguments. For example, Fox makes a movie and Apple purchases the rights to sell it on iTunes. Users then buy and download the film, but Fox wants you to purchase the movie again if you want to use it in a way that doesn't include an Apple device, such as use on an Android phone. With DRM, you cannot use it elsewhere — without DRM, the use of such content is not restricted.

If you're not happy with this system, there are a number of workarounds and pirate downloads available, albeit illegally. However, Fox would prefer to protect the potential revenue stream made available by you trying to change the ecosystem in which you use the content.

Hickson argues:

"Nobody has been stopped from violating a copyright. All these movies are probably available on file-sharing sites. The only people who are stopped from doing anything are the player providers — they are forced to provide a user experience that, rather than being optimised for the users, puts potential future revenues first (forcing people to play ads, keeping the door open to charging more for more features later, building artificial obsolescence into content so that if you change ecosystem, you have to purchase the content again)."

In order to further reinforce the point, the engineer argues that while DRM works well in the physical video and book space, even if the system is faulty, use in the music industry was doomed to fail. This is due to the fact content providers sold their digital content without DRM, which allowed playback on a range of devices. If CDs had been encrypted to start with, then it is possible DRM contract-wielding distributors would have been able to prevent listening on selected mobile gadgets, including iPods.

In conclusion, the Google engineer argues that "DRM's purpose is to give content providers control over software and hardware providers," and it is doing a fine job so far.

Topics: Google, Emerging Tech, Legal

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  • What Happened To The Content Creators?

    Seems like the whole copyright system is set up to benefit these "content providers", not the actual creators of the content.
    • The Middleman Makes The Most

      Example: Music

      The Artist: Very Little
      Google Play/Amazon: A little More
      Record Company: Most Of It
      • Is there a breakdown that shows that?

        I've heard others say that, but is it myth, or is there a breakdown chart of actual costs someplace?
        William Farrel
        • Mr friend was in the...

          ...was in a band and was explained how it works. I also worked for a big box retailer in my early days and the discount was 10% over cost. A 14.99 CD back then I think cost me about 10 bucks.
          The artist gets about $1.10 (or 10% of 75% of the MSRP). The rest goes to the studio/distribution house. They take the MSRP and shave off 25% "for packaging costs" then take 10% and that is the royalties. This differs a bit depending on the individual contract. They also siphon off costs as "recoupment" meaning they pretty much bend them over a barrel and charge them for everything they can get away with.
          Considering most music isn't even distributed on a physical media anymore, the label is making an unholy profit. Now you know why so many artists want to start their own studios/labels. This is why the RIAA is fighting tooth and nail. They like their fat paychecks on the packs of the pleb stars.
          This is not to say that stars can't get rich. But predominately it's only a very few that do.
          The movie industry "never shows a profit". They always finagle the books so that a movie, no matter how big the gross income is, makes "almost nothing". That's why movie success is measured in ticket sales, not studio profit, and you almost never hear about DVD/BD profit numbers. They don't want you to know how they could bathe in swimming pools of cash while telling everyone that they "barely broke even".
          That's why the MPAA is fighting for DRM. They too like their enormously fat paychecks too much to give any up.
          The only way to stop this is to stop buying their stuff. Stop going to movies and stop buying music from labels that promote this mentality. Once they die, the laws of economics will say that someone else will rise to take their place. All those stars don't want to go hungry after all. Hopefully the replacements will learn from the mistakes of the departed.
        • They make around only 10%, sometimes even less

          "The Record Label's Slice of the Pie

          Record companies get a cut of absolutely everything a musician produces.

          That's not too surprising, considering artists are a risky investment the record company is taking a chance on. They pay advances to the artists for recording costs and other expenses, but they expect a return on that investment.

          So just how much of a cut does the artist get for an album sale under a record label?

          Every contract is different, but the average high-end royalty deal with a record company will pay musicians $1 for every $10 retail album sale.

          iTunes and Napster

          In the popular digital realm, a $9.99 download on a program like iTunes nets artists a modest 94 cents -- less than a 10% cut. The record company takes $5.35 and Apple keeps the remaining $3.70.

          Artists get nine cents for each individual song downloaded on Napster and iTunes. To put that into perspective, musicians need to sell 12,399 songs a month to earn a salary equal to a McDonald’s employee.

          Perhaps that is why many popular artists have yet to cave to Apple and Napster, preferring to sell through other venues instead.


          Enjoy listening to streaming music online? Online streaming services like, Rhapsody and Spotify pay each time users click play, but the numbers are a pittance.

          Listeners have to stream an artist’s songs 849,817 times on Rhapsody, 1,546,667 times on and 4,053,110 times on Spotify respectively to earn a monthly salary equal to minimum wage."

          It's an older article, but it gets the point across rather well.
          • Bettter to cut out the record label

            If an artist were to cut out the record label and go with say iTunes:

            Album Sale $9.99
            Apple / card retailers: $3.00
            Artist: $6.99

            Minus $150 yearly fee to agent handling upload if artist has less than 20 albums to get direct account. And minus the $150 upload fee. The agents I have found do not take a cut beyond the fixed rate fees.

            These agents upload to all stores, not just iTunes for this same flat rate.

            Before iTunes this was not practical for worldwide sales as there were so many other costs.

            On top of this it is quite common to find iTunes cards at 20% off at retailers.

            So you can in reality buy the $9.99 album for $7.99 and the artist would get $6.99

            The retailer is also getting a cut out of that $1

            So no - don't blame iTunes for cutting into the revenue stream, use it to bypass those that took the money before.

            (Same goes for many of the other online music retailers - they help not hinder)
          • $3 to Apple

            That is nearly as bad as the record companies. Apple is making twice as much as an agent makes, 30% as opposed to 15% and the agent actually does something. The overhead for a digital store is a pittance, and they are taking a prime share.

            And, though it sounds like I am trashing Apple, I am actually just trashing online sales locations, I am sure it is just as bad at Amazon. Artists need to start marketing the stuff themselves and keeping all the profits.
        • here ya go

          Benjamin NElson
      • Music

        Fixed that for you:

        The Artist: Nothing
        Google Play/Amazon: 90 percent
        Tech industy lobbyists posing as Libertarians 9.995 percent
        Record Company: .005 percent
        Brian Strack
        • Nope

          The standard fee for content sales is 30% to Google etc

          The rest goes mostly to ther label.

          But ask me again in a few months - I am about to try it.
      • Re: Example: Music

        Be specific: it's RECORDED music you're talking about. Musicians are quite capable of making lots of profit from their own performances, just not from recordings of those performances.
        • this

          Technology created the RECORDING industry. Career musicians existed before this happened, indeed they have existed for thousands of years.

          Technology has now destroyed the recording industry.

          In the future, technology could enable micro-payments PER PLAY of a tune (with maybe the first play for free so if you hate it you don't get charged) so that the Artists are properly compensated. I include in this writers and engineers, the %'s they get can be all organised from these micro-payments.

          All we want is a fair way of paying an artist while they ARE IN BED AND NOT DOING ANY WORK :-)
  • DRM it's just wrong

    I can easily get a pirate copy of basically anything, songs, movies, books, ...

    DRM is just annoying, it's so annoying that sometimes it's better to get a pirate copy.
    Content makers, like editors and others should try to provide a better experience, people are paying they should be well regarded and not treated like crap.
    For me it's just wrong that when i buy a CD I just get the CD and not the content, if I break the CD I need to pay full price for the same thing per ex.
    • Definitely.

      The ONLY people who are inconvenienced by DRM are the legitimate paying customers. It's 100% accurate to say that a hacked version of the content is much easier to use on your devices. In this way, content companies are actually convincing MORE people to download pirated content by using DRM. Before the recording industry started using DRM, I had purchased about 650 CDs. Since that time, I've purchased maybe 3 CDs. I don't download pirated copies, because I think the artists should make money on their creations. I just don't buy ANY music in order to protest the way recording companies treat their paying customers.
      • Secondhand music

        Hi Bill,

        Would you buy second hand music? I have a similar position (although I will buy classical as most of the stuff I listen to is by old dead guys!) and would be interested in what you feel about secondhand music sales.

        I did a dissertation some years ago asking the salient question about p2p which no-one seems to ask, is it doing any harm? (The answer was no - the more people were exposed to music the more they bought was the conclusion, there is no evidence of a reduction in sales through copying.) One group I found and communicated with have a private system just for swapping live recordings they had taken which is not illegal, they almost universally would not buy new music due to the lack of faith they had in the industry.
      • Amazon mp3

        Is where I buy music! MP3 is portable to all my devices with no DRM. It is cheaper to buy a song for a dollar than the time it takes (me) to find a pirate version. I feel better too.
    • I have been saying this for years: The hackers give better service!

      I have been saying this for years: The hackers give better service!
  • Nobody has been stopped from violating a copyright. NONSENSE !!!

    Piracy runs according to : "Opportunity makes the thief". The easier it is to unlawfully obtain content, the more people will be attracted by the dark side.
    Leave your front door at home wide open and see what's gonna happen. All of a sudden all sorts of otherwise faithful people will enter your house.

    It's not about DRM [YES or NO], it's about how to sell a product so customers (at least the majority) prefer obtaining it legally. It must be simple, reliable, inexpensive and on-time.
    Airing US TV series 8 months later in Europe is not really enticing.
    • No nonsense anywhere around here

      DRM stops nothing. It only temporarily delays things until it's broken.

      Who would be stopped by DRM? The legitimate buyer?

      It never has the DRM once shared, because people break it before sharing. Only one person has to break it, then it's out there.

      A legitimate buyer who want to share it without breaking the DRM only has to point the friend to TPB or wherever else an already cracked copy exists.

      Also, I know plenty of pirates who switched to services like Spotify. People often want to, but want to feel that they get what they want for a reasonable price.

      The boss of Valve is right - piracy is a service problem. Give people the service they want and you no longer have a problem.
      • Uh huh

        Valve's Steam also has DRM.
        Jeff Kibuule