Tuesday, November 4, 2008


The Trouble with DRM

Recently I experienced first hand one of the major problems with DRM or Digital Rights Management. It seems that under certain conditions that Windows will not play certain media, even if the media has been legally purchased. Now the situation is rather bad on Linux as there is no DRM mechanism to legally buy music or videos so I use a secondary computer running Windows 2000 to do that. The problem was that I would get a codec error after Windows Media Player downloaded the license for the media. Using a program called Fairuse4wm I was able to remove the DRM. Once the DRM was removed I no longer got the codec error and could play the media, which to me means the codec error was bogus.

For Canada the online music store of choice seems to be Puretracks. Most of the music there is DRM-laden I'm sorry to say but there are also some mp3 songs. One can purchse music using their credit card (songs are usually 99 cents to $1.25 each), use Fairuse4wm and then transfer your songs over to your Linux box.

Now there are three big sticking points with DRM:

1) You must obtain a license to play media files with DRM but all sorts of problems can occur. You might not be able to talk to the server which provides the license or your operating system could have some problem with files used in the DRM process. DRM essentially adds another level of complexity which makes screw-ups more likely.

2) Your media could have some expiration term. Some of the tennis videos will expire after one year.

3) You are forced to use Microsoft Windows in almost every situation so your choice is restricted unless you remove the DRM. This is quasi-legal ground but to me the greater good is to have files which can be backed up and transferred to another device, whether it be the CD-player in your car, or a portable mp3 device or your Linux box.

Now let me just say that I don't advocate downloading music illegally or using file sharing programs to share copyrighted material with the rest of the world. My policy is to buy DVDs, CDs and to download music from respectable online stores. The big problem is that the powers that be continue to tweak their DRM so many folks can't even play the media they legally purchased. So far I can report that the removal of DRM was possible every time I encountered it. It's the old story once again: You will need a Windows computer to make this minor miracle possible.

Even if some DRM mechanism was made for Linux I don't think it would work very well, and let me say that the prospect of my media becoming expired really kills the whole idea for me. DRM is so problematic that many customers who are normally law-abiding citizens could be tempted to use file sharing programs instead of using legitimate downloading services. The best solution is to make downloads easy and perhaps make some appeal to customers like "OK folks, we got rid of the DRM. Almost everyone hated it so we removed it. Please don't share the files and we promise not to reintroduce the DRM". It could work, 99 cents per song is a price people are willing to pay.


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