More On DRM

January 14, 2007

It’s currently “geek chic” to hate DRM (“digital rights management”), the copy-protection schemes put on music one buys online. It’s hard, in fact, to even find a discussion of DRM that doesn’t condemn it. The issue is hitting the press again now that Apple has announced their iPhone. “Want an iPhone? Beware the iHandcufs” warns the New York Times.

But the iPhone has no more restrictions than the iPod. Do I need I even point out that most people have not found these restrictions too onerous?

There are some who see Apple as the largest advocate of DRM on the planet – and thus evil. But it’s also true that Apple is the most successful purveyor of DRM’d content precisely because their restrictions are so loose. You can easily bypass all restrictions put upon iTunes music by simply burning your purchase to a CD (a fact which the Times article does mention, but doesn’t allow to soften its alarmist tone).

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe DRM isn’t here to stay for the foreseeable future. Maybe the “free the music” crowd is right and within five years we’ll be able to purchase whatever music we want online without any restrictions whatsoever. If that day does come, I’ll be as happy as the next person. But in the meantime I have mixed feelings about Apple being singled out as the poster child of the evils of DRM. They are in fact the biggest perpetrator, but they are the biggest precisely because they are the lightest offender. They speed all the time, but hey, they’re only going five over. After all, If I am right and DRM is here for a while, it makes more sense to embrace and reward those who have the least oppressive variety.


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  1. People have to remember that Apple is a big made for profit company. And they make a lot of money. Fact is, they have to do certain things to allow themselves the ability to function the way they do . . . and DRM is one of those things. iTunes simply wouldn’t exist in the form it does without it. The studios are the RIAA are the evil ones here. Disk prices could drop to under $10 and they would still make money.

    Plus, as you’ve pointed out, Apple’s system is hardly restrivtive. I can share things on my Macbook, Macpro, and video iPod. Well, that’s all I need!

    Apple has done what they’ve needed to do, do it in a form that’s cool, extrememly functional, is less restrictive than the windows media player DRM, and offers alot in spite.

  2. When I first found out about DRM in early 2001, I was upset about it. I blogged about it on some long-dead blog, but it didn’t seem to make much of a difference.

    Now, though, there is a much-needed debate in the tech world about DRM. Adobe apparently will be introducing it with a future version of Photoshop. If I recall correctly, it would make sure that you are A) not running any other copies of the same license on the network, and B) no _older_ version of Photoshop is on the same machine. I may have those a little off, but it’s not far off. Let us recall that Adobe is a multi-million (billion?) dollar company with expensive headquarters in San Jose, Califronia, and has used bad laws like the DMCA to prosecute people who try to get around their weak security systems. Although most people won’t ever see Adobe coming after them, they’re certainly not benevolent dictators. Capitalism vs. info-libertarianism.

    And as far as Apple DRM goes, it’s occasionally annoying, like when I added a hard drive to my Mac mini, or try to play something on the iBook, but it has a sufficiently loose grip that does not make it terribly uncomfortable to use the system. It’s never blocked me from doing anything, except for not allowing me to copy audio recordings I made with my iPod’s mic onto my Mac via iTunes. It was easily circumnavigated, but for once it reminded me that DRM is there.

    On the flip side, without Apple “light” DRM, the music industry would never have allowed Apple’s now-wildly successful music store to take off.

    Curious times.

  3. I’m pretty sure Adobe has always had some kind of scheme where it checks the local subnet for duplicate licenses. Either that or I’m thinking of QuarkXPress. But I think they both have done it for years.

    As far as music DRM goes, I’m glad we’re having this discussion. The RIAA and the MPAA are buying legislation that is positively draconian in its effort to thwart fair use. Hopefully the worst offenses can be prevented.

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