The Real Reason DRM Sucks


By Will Smith

As my wife, friends, and coworkers can attest, I really don’t like digital-rights management technology. I’ve railed against the choreographed erosion of Fair Use rights for years. While I definitely think people should be paid for the music they produce, I detest DRM in its current form. It just doesn’t make sense.

Current DRM tech, whether it’s the iTunes Music Store’s Fairplay, protected WMA files, or copy-protected “CDs,” is broken. These DRM schemes don’t do anything to prevent determined individuals from copying a CD or ripping it.

It’s easy to decrypt these files with downloadable tools that are just a Google search away. Once decrypted, one person can distribute the songs over the Internet to everyone in the world. So what we have are DRM schemes that prevent normal people from exercising their Fair Use right to buy an album once and listen to it in their car, through a streaming box, and on an MP3 player, but which don’t actually do anything to stop the larger problem of music piracy. I don’t know about you, but I think that’s bunk.

So why have hardware manufacturers gotten in bed with the nasty music industry creeps? It’s simple! By forcing your customers to use your proprietary DRM scheme, you also lock them into using your hardware. The iTunes Music Store is a perfect example. If you spend a ton of money at the iTMS, there’s no way you’re going to throw out all that music and switch to a Windows Media-compatible player that can’t play those songs. Sure, you could burn all the songs to CD, and re-rip them in an unprotected format; but you lose sound quality when you do that. And it’s a huge pain in the ass.

It really doesn’t make sense to spend money on downloadable music when you get tracks encumbered by crippling DRM and lossy compression for the same price as an old-fashioned CD.

Of course, schemes to copy-protect CDs have been around for a while, and they’re getting worse. Now that the mainstream media has taken note, and Sony has recalled a ton of afflicted CDs, you might think we’ve won the fight against DRM. The fight’s not over yet. Not by a long shot.

So, if you buy a CD encumbered with DRM, don’t take it sitting down. Take the disc back to the place of purchase, tell the store it’s defective, and demand your money back. When they ask you what’s wrong with the disc, the answer is simple. Tell them it won’t work with your iPod.

The music industry may not listen to us, but it’ll sure as hell listen to Best Buy.

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