By Harry McCracken | Monday, October 13, 2008 at 3:25 am
In August of 2007, Google gave up on trying to sell videos wrapped in DRM and decided to shut down the servers tht made the copy protction function. It informed customers that they’d lose the ability to move videos they’d “paid” for to new devices. And only decided to refund their money after a consumer backlash.
In April of 2008, MSN gave up on trying to sell music wrapped in DRM and decided to shut down the servers tht made the copy protction function. It informed customers that they’d lose the ability to move songs they’d “paid” for to new decices. And only decided to refund their money after a consumer backlash.
In July of 2008, Yahoo gave up on trying to sell music wrapped in DRM and decided to shut down the servers that made the copy protction function. It informed customers that they’d lose the ability to move songs they’d “paid” for to new devices. And only decided to…oh, you get the idea.
In September of 2008, Walmart.com gave up on trying to sell software wrapped in DRM and decided to shut down the servers tht made the copy protction function. It informed customers that they’d lose the ability to move songs they’d “paid” for to new devices. At last report, a customer backlash had resulted in the company deciding to maintain the servers for a longer but specified period.
By which I mean that for every ingenious new DRM scheme, there’s someone–or several someones–like Norway’s scary-smart DVD Jon, the guy who cracked the encryption on DVD discs. For them, breaking supposedly unbreakable copy protection is an irresistible challenge. They’re usually up to it, and they love to share the fruits of their knowledge. Result: Copy protection often doesn’t do much to faze the people who it’s designed to frustrate, since tools for defeating it are easy to find, easy to use, and free.
Software and entertainment publishers argue, correctly, that piracy is a gigantic problem that costs them lots of money in lost sales. But copy-protection isn’t a no-cost countermeasure–actually, it costs billions of dollars to devise, implement, and maintain. The money has to come from somewhere. And since pirates don’t compensate anybody for anything, it’s paying customers who end up footing the bill.
In the era of the Walkman, Sony was synonymous with portable music. In the digital age, it isn’t, and probably never will be. There are multiple reasons why, but one of them is clearly ATRAC, the copy-protected music format that the company saddled its digital audio players with at first. Early Sony players couldn’t even play an MP3 until it had been converted into ATRAC; the company only abandoned the format completely in August of 2007, when it shuttered its Connect music store and told purchasers of ATRAC tracks that they had until March of 2008 to figure out how to convert their tunes into another format. If Sony had leaped aboard the MP3 bandwagon hard and fast–like, oh, a certain company with a piece of fruit for a logo–it’s not entirely inconceivable that the Walkman would be the same status symbol today that it was a quarter-century ago.
Such as Will Wright’s Spore, a landmark game from one of the greatest designers ever. As I write this, it has 3105 user reviews on Amazon.com. Not all of them come from folks who have actually played Spore, 2627 give it a pitiful one star out of five–and those evaluations are full of words like draconian, baggage, and infected. All of which refer to the overweening copy protection that EA saddled the game with. The copy protection which prevented buyers from doing things which Spore’s documentation specifically said were permitted. The copy protection which EA defended but dialed back after the consumer revolt. Wouldn’t it be kind of sad if the main thing people remembered about Spore a decade or two from now was its crippling DRM?
RealNetworks’ RealDVD is a Windows application that will copy DVDs onto a PC’s hard drive. It doesn’t just preserve the DVDs’ data encryption–it adds its own additional layer of copy protection to prevent people from sharing the copies they make or even putting them on a home network. In a real (ahem) sense, the RealDVD copies are more hobbled by copy protection than the original discs from whence they sprung. But it wasn’t enough: Hollywood is suing Real, which was forced by court order to pull RealDVD off the market. If the entertainment industry can’t live with RealDVD, it can’t live with any DVD copying product. (Which doesn’t change the fact that there are plenty of DVD copiers that Hollywood has been unable to do anything about.)