Rant: Digital Rights Management

I wasn’t expecting to have another rant up so soon after the first, but something happened actually the same day as I posted the prior one, and I decided to write about it. I call these rants because they aren’t meant to be commentary on something, or well-thought out thoughts and ideas. They’re just rants, and the word “rant” alone in the title of the post can let anyone who doesn’t want to read a rant know to skip it.

Not too long ago, Author of アニ・ノート wrote about Japanese songs in iTunes. I’ve previously purchased a number of Rina Aiuchi’s songs from iTunes’s Japanese store. Buying Japanese songs apparently is easier now, as they are available in (at least) the US store.

My first thought at the news was, “Let me know when they’re better than CD quality.” I’m not one of those people who cannot tell the difference in quality, but why not go for the best? For some reason, I like to have the CD available, even though I never need it once I copy the songs from a CD to my computer in FLAC format. I’m sure that’ll change for me in time. After all, I have no problem buying WiiWare and Virtual Console games for the Nintendo Wii, and those are downloaded as well. (Mega Man 9 is evil.)

Actually, I’m thinking about DRM, and, next to that, about region protection.

After I bought Switchfoot’s “Nothing Is Sound”, I read more about the group, and learned that their initial release was DRM-encumbered. When the group learned about this, and how it prevented their listeners from copying songs to their computer to listen to, the group posted on their web site instructions on how to circumvent these restrictions. In a no-longer-available post on Sony’s forum, Tim Foreman of Switchfoot wrote:

Hello friends,
my heart is heavy with this whole copy-protection thing. Many PC users have posted problems that they have had importing the new songs (regular disc only, not the dual disc) into programs such as Itunes. Let me first say that as a musician AND as a music fan, I agree with the frustration that has been expressed. We were horrified when we first heard about the new copy-protection policy that is being implemented by most major labels, including Sony (ours), and immediately looked into all of our options for removing this from our new album. Unfortunately, this is the new policy for all new major releases from these record companies. It is heartbreaking to see our blood, sweat, and tears over the past 2 years blurred by the confusion and frustration surrounding this new technology. It is also unfortunate when bands such as ourselves, Foo Fighters, Coldplay, etc… (just a few of the new releases with copy protection) are the target of this criticism, when there is no possible way to avoid this new industry policy.

All DRM did here was make life harder on the people who bought Switchfoot’s album. All it takes is for one single person to copy the music and put it online for the world to download. The people downloading it are the ones Sony should be targetting, if it chooses to target, and those are the ones Sony cannot target. After all, they don’t consume Sony’s products, they only download copies of the music from Sony’s CDs. The people inconvenienced are those who are paying for the product. (Actually, I “won” a music download from a bag of Goldfish crackers, and out of the three available to download, I picked “Stars” from Nothing is Sound, only to find DRM wouldn’t let me listen to it, so I installed the peer-to-peer program aMule, and downloaded the song I’d won a free download for that way; this freebie I’d won is what lead to me buying the album.)

Another purchase of mine was Speed’s “Walking in the rain / Stars to shine again”. This CD came with so much restriction that it practically could only be played in Windows Media Player on the Windows XP operating system. Want to listen on your car’s CD player? No can do. (And yet, “Walking in the rain” was so worth the trouble to get off that CD, and I’d go through it again if I had to.)

DVDs are similar. When I buy region two DVDs, or region four DVDs, or otherwise, I can’t play them on any of the DVD players my family owns, including Windows Media Player in Windows Vista Home Basic on my laptop.

Lucky for me, I use FreeBSD on my PC and Linux on my laptop, and these come with software that lets me get around all these restrictions.

As I type this, I haven’t checked to see if the new US-available selection on iTunes uses the two-tier model of cheaper DRM-encumbered and more expensive not-encumbered versions of each track. If both are available, I wonder if they differ in quality. Assuming I can only buy from within iTunes, it means I’d have to boot my laptop to Windows Vista to make a purchase, and if that’s the case, a tool for stripping away the DRM is only one click away. When given a choice, do I save money at the expense of the time required to click a button to remove DRM, or do I pay more to show I’ll pay more to own the songs for personal use without restrictions?

This all came to mind when a recent event reminded me of DRM and the methods used to get around it. I commute to work in a vanpool, and we recently had to relocate away from Wal-Mart. For now, we’re staying in a church parking lot, as the have a “Park and Ride” set up (where the city pays a facility to provide parking for vanpool commuters). Whereas Wal-Mart has lights, and security driving around, and cameras, the church doesn’t. Because of this, vanpools are constantly finding their gas tanks have been drained.

What’s the relation between DRM and gas theft? We recently bought a gas cap with a lock. This meant the inconvenience of having to unlock the cap with a key every few days when filling up the tank. DRM often inconveniences users in way. And over the weekend? Someone destroyed the locked cap, and drained our van’s tank. Just like with DRM, if someone wants something that badly, they will get around it.

The shame of DRM is that not the people who want to take a video game or music or anime without paying who must work around the “protection”, it’s the paying users.

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