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Ferris Bueller on Digital Rights Management

car.jpgDRM is a neccesary evil, but it won’t stop everyone. It only slows the velocity of illegal behavior. Making media easy to access and consume would have an even greater effect.


Cameron: The 1961 Ferrari 250 GT California. Less than a hundred were made. My father spent three years restoring this car. It is his love. It is his passion…

Ferris: It is his fault he didn’t lock the garage!

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)

Anyone really believe that Ferris wouldn’t have stolen the car if the garage was locked?

If you subscribe to Yahoo! Musicmatch, Real Networks (RNWK) Rhapsody, or another Windows music subscription service, you use the Microsoft (MSFT) PlaysForSure digital rights management (DRM) codec. While you can download all the music you wish, the software prevents the user from transferring the media to other users.

It works, but as a subscriber to Yahoo! Musicmatch who transfers music to a Cingular 8125, I can tell you it is far from a pleasant user experience. In fact, it almost never works. Transfers mysteriously fail, and occasionally my whole downloaded library refuses to play.

A hack recently surfaced that would allow users to remove the DRM from downloaded files. It works. Microsoft must be fielding some angry phone calls from both customers and content owners.

Engadget tracked down the hacker – “Viodentia” – and interviewed him.

It gets better – Microsoft is now suing Viodentia, and plans to subpoena Google and Yahoo for information that would allow them to locate him (her? not likely). Microsoft is also throwing the entire PlaysForSure algorithm on the scrap heap with their new Zune initiative. (see ‘Apple Overload and Zune Confusion‘)

Why does DRM even exist? Because people have no respect for goods where the marginal cost of production is zero or close to it. (Source).

Is this fair? No. Is it right? No. Is DRM needed? Absolutely. There is no reason why DRM can’t be perfected. Will it stop everyone? Of course not- the objective is simply to reduce the velocity of pirated material, not bring it to a halt.

At the same time, content owners need to make their media available, because individuals who can’t freely access their media will simply pirate it out of convenience, not because of an economic decision. It’s not the presence of DRM, but the inconvenience and lack of media distribution that creates a bigger market for Viodentia’s services.


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  1. I prefer the watermarking solution, or the unprotected solution.

    Watermark the media, embed a watermark ID like the FraunfingenvorsprungDeutschTechnic system that yahoo uses, into the audio track.

    Embed the sale ID, so the music can be matched to the buyer. Otherwise unprotect it. They can do what they want with the track.

    If the music appears on the net, you have the ID of the person who released it and can cancel their account or pursue them.

    If they find a way to remove the ID, change the system and catch them next time. They can never be sure they have successfully removed their ID from the track, there is always a doubt.

    In theory if you have enough copies of a music track you can remove the ID regardless of the method (‘enough’ depends on the system, but its much much bigger than 2). But can you convince enough people to risk penalties to give you their copies? After all the comeback, if you fail to remove the ID, comes back to them, and you have no way to test if the watermark has been successfully removed.

    Since watermarking does not apply any DRM restriction, the negative value of DRM is no longer a problem. It can play on any MP3 device and transferred as needed. And of course since your ID is in the music, you make the choice as to who you trust with a copy.


    I’m glad to see Yahoo pushing in that direction since it seems to be a clear winner. Either that or you realize that independant acts sell unprotected MP3s via eMusic and similar sites and the piracy is minimal anyway.

    Posted by Watermark it | September 29, 2006, 3:04 PM
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