Let Us Entertain You vs. The Evil That Is DRM


Originally uploaded by Elijah.

I guess by flagging items about high definition video, it sort of makes me an “HD Geek”, but I’ve never considered myself geek material. I guess no geek ever does. I just happen to be very interested in video, and HD video is the next step. Eventually everyone will be watching it, and more importantly wanting to save it to watch again whenever it’s convenient. Now a lot of people will probably use a Tivo or some sort of Tivo-like box from their cable or satellite provider to control their HD watching habits. However, many people, like me, will be looking to use a computer with something like Windows Media Center to control it all.

It’s unclear how Windows Vista, the upcoming new version of the Windows OS will implement Windows Media Center, but there’s at least one upgrade issue that will rear its ugly head. Many of you may be familar with the term digital rights management (DRM) and know the additional hassle that it burdens us with. Well you haven’t seen anything yet. Let me introduce you to the world of High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection, or HDCP. This is the HD video flavor of DRM and boy what a mess this appears to be. It starts with this article stating this incredible fact – “none of the AGP or PCI-E graphics cards that you can buy today (January 2006) support HDCP.”

Now at this point you may not care about HDCP, but you will soon, and the above graphics card fiasco does not give me confidence that the transition to HD will be a smooth one. Moreover, it points to the EVIL THAT IS DRM!

After reading the graphics card article, I tracked down several great articles that are must reads for the DRM era. Cory Doctorow is the leader of the anti-DRM movement and he has plenty of ammunition for the fight. I have links to some of his thoughts here, here, and here. Cory’s basic points are:

1. That DRM systems don’t work
2. That DRM systems are bad for society
3. That DRM systems are bad for business
4. That DRM systems are bad for artists
5. That DRM is bad (actually, that’s MY summarizing point)

I also discovered a site summarizing a professional cryptographer’s effort in describing the security weakness in HDCP, but he will not release the paper to the public for fear that it will violate the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA). It is a great, and chilling, synopsis of the current state of DRM-affairs.

After seeing the arguments laid out, it is obvious to me that DRM actually encourages piracy. It is so restrictive and user hostile that it encourages users to break the letter of the law just to allow the playing of audio and video within one’s own home. Who benefits from DRM? Well, pirates have cracked every instance of copy protection. Honest people will experience a “speed bump”, or in other words, a penalty for being honest. Hollywood will continue to charge high prices for ever more average quality content. And consumers in general will be more and more frustrated with the restrictions placed on them. I’m hoping that the everyday citizen will begin to get as upset about this issue as the geeks are now.


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