Does digital rights management really work?

What is DRM?

DRM is an acronym you may get to know very well, if you haven’t already! Digital Rights Management is a broad term used to describe the ability to control media. Content providers and wonderful organizations (sarcasm intended) such as the Recording Industry Association of America(RIAA) and Motion Picture Association of America(MPAA) want the ability to control what you do with music and video content you buy. DRM is the cornerstone of their way on copyright infringement. It is meant to restrict the copying and playing of digital files based on what the provider of that files want’s to limit your actions to.

DRM doesn’t work and won’t ever!

DRM and encryption are often referred to in the same sentence. In actuality encryption is not DRM, but a large part of it. Without encryption you can’t have DRM. Encryption is similar to locking something valuable in a box. Encryption requires an algorithm and an encryption key. The strength of the box and lock determines exactly how safe your valuable is. The box is the algorithm and the lock is the encryption key. If you, or someone you trust needs access to the valuable they must have the key.

How does this relate to DRM? When digital files are produced and the provider want’s to control how you use the content they employ DRM. The file is encrypted using an algorithm and a key must be provided for you to have access to the content. Because of this the provider MUST provide the key to you. So every DVD, iTunes song, HDDVD, etc you get must have a key or you wouldn’t be able to play it. Think about our box example above. How safe is that box if you tape the key to the outside?

Because the key is always included in the file DRM can’t work! The net affect of DRM is a negative experience for the user. Nothing more. Nothing less.

  • DVD’s that can’t be copied
  • DVD’s that only play in specific areas
  • Downloaded music that will only play on specific devices
  • High definition content that only plays in standard definition

The above are just some of the restrictions placed on you, the end user, by DRM.

Do we have specific example of DRM that doesn’t work?

  • When DVD’s came out the providers claimed they used an unbreakable encryption. Within a very short time it was cracked and now DVD’s are copyable.
  • Music stores such as iTunes who only intend the songs be played on one device. There are simple manual ways such as burning to CD and then ripping the songs to another format, and software programs to remove the protection.
  • HD-DVD and Blu-Ray are touted as unbreakable. Since DVD encryption was so easily broken they’ve had years and years to learn from their mistakes. Shortly after the release this was broken also.

Sony even went to the trouble of installing a rootkit on customers computers, without their knowledge, to prevent copying.
This led to many lawsuits and CD recalls. Since the rootkit was already installed it also opened up these computers to other infections, data loss, personal information loss, and more.

Apple recently began offering music downloads without DRM. You are allowed to play them whenever you like on any device you wish. The catch? Apple imbeds your name and email address in each song.

Obviously DRM and fear have led these companies to place the privacy of their customers at risk!

My take on this whole mess


The RIAA always complains about the woeful state of the recording industry. They claim they are losing billions of dollars each year through copying and file sharing. Let’s look back to the heyday of the recording industry, the early 80’s to mid 90’s. Remember the cassette and the ability to copy your music. Copy your cassette and take it in the car. Copy your cassette and put it in your walkman. Remember buying cassettes for $8, $9, or at most $10? Every song was great. Never a bad song! 7, 8, or more songs per side… Those were the days. The recording industry couldn’t have made more money if they printed it!

Skip ahead to the early 90’s when CD’s finally had reached a point where they were common place. What? $16.99, $17.99, $18.99 for a single CD. Hmmm there’s only 12 to 14 songs tops on most CD’s. So let me get this right. You have a medium that is easier, faster, and cheaper to produce in large quantities and you double the price? If I remember correctly there was a class action suit regarding CD prices in the early part of this decade (they lost).

This is the time when internet file sharing took off. Why? Value. The internet was becoming common place in households across the world and the realization that CD’s were way over priced for what they offered was spreading also. Result – the birth of filesharing.

Skip ahead to the year 2003. CD prices have dropped to reasonable levels. Rejoice. Run forth and buy, buy, buy. Sounds great, doesn’t it? Ah, all is right with the world. So we hear a song on the radio. "Wow, that’s great. I’ve got to get it". We head to the store and purchase a CD. We run to the car opening the package in anticipation. Unlock the door, turn on the car, and insert the CD in one fell swoop of glee. Track 1 – crap. Track 2 – crap. Lather, rinse, and repeat! Today’s CD’s only have one (two if your lucky) songs worth listening to. Where are we? Value. $10 for one (two if your lucky) songs and the RIAA wonders why filesharing is still so prevalent!

Truly the current state of the recording industry is their own fault, yet the consumer still deals with their foolish choices.


I don’t even know where to begin with the MPAA. They constantly complain about piracy and the billions of lost revenue. Interesting. Each week I hear about a record box office on some movie. They don’t mention that the DVD has also been their single biggest money maker of all time. I just don’t get it.

The Future

I hope in the very near future that both organizations wise up. Produce good content. Allow us to use the content we purchase freely without turning our computers and portable devices into a mine field of complication. If I’m paying $20 for a DVD why shouldn’t I be able to protect the original and use a copy I’ve made on a 25 cent DVD. Why shouldn’t I be able to listen to music I’ve purchased in my car, home stereo, and mp3 player without jumping through hoops and hassles? Maybe someday. DRM doesn’t work. DRM is not a cure for poor decisions made by a company or organization and it shouldn’t be used as such.

The record companies and movie studios need to ask themselves a question. Were the cassette and VHS days that bad? Were they worse than what they are currently doing to their customers? If they don’t come up with the right answer soon they are only going to continue to shoot themselves in the foot.

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