Digital Rights Revoked?

Convergence of digital media onto a single device is becoming more and more of a reality as technology progresses. However, with new devices emerging that can do just about anything with any media, companies have grown concerned about piracy issues and copyright infringement. However, the biggest laugh, and fear, that I have about this would be the introduction of Digital Rights Management (DRM).

Although I’m not a fan of quoting Wikipedia.org, their definition of DRM is the clearest:

Digital Rights Management (generally abbreviated to DRM) is any of several technologies used by publishers (or copyright owners) to control access to and usage of digital data (such as software, music, movies) and hardware, handling usage restrictions associated with a specific instance of a digital work.”

In theory, this kind of protection can benefit those who want to protect their content from being stolen. And, in practice, this works to an extent.

For example, the new Napster (no, Napster is not dead, just DRM) gives users the ability to pay money for individual tracks and full albums. There is a subscription service at $10 a month for users to have access to Napster’s entire music library with unlimited, uninterrupted downloads and playback of that music on up to three computers. For $15 a month, that same music can be transferred to a DRM-compatible mp3 player.

There are some drawbacks to this kind of protection and service though. First, the DRM only works on Windows machines, and requires an active membership for the files to remain active and connected to a user’s account. If a file from Napster is played on another person’s machine that does not have the subscription connected to it, or if the file hasn’t refreshed its DRM within two weeks, the file does not play. The biggest pain about this technology is that some devices cannot read these files. Of them, the most popular device that cannot play these files is the iPod.

However, DRM isn’t as protected as it could be. Since these songs are all encoded at 128-192 kbps, they’re already in a lower-end quality, but still sound pretty good in quality. Now, most sound cards built into computers have the ability to capture sound, and of those, most also have the ability to capture sound that is playing through the computer’s software. Hypothetically, a person could pay $10 a month for Napster, download hundreds of dollars worth of music a month, and play each and every track out while recording the sound at the same time, thus reproducing an anti-protected mp3 format audio file. The process would take some time, but the end user would save hundreds of dollars, avoid the DRM technology (and break several copyright laws), and have music compatible for their choice of media device. 

Based on this example alone, I think that DRM is a bit of a joke, because if software can be created, it can be broken down just as easily. If users want to get through DRM protection, they will find a way to do so. Telling users what rights they have and what they don’t have may not stop people from downloading music and video when they shouldn’t, or using it how companies want people to use those files.

This brings me to what I fear about this DRM sweep. If software can be broken down and recoded to get around DRM protection, then the only thing left to do is to create hardware instead of software to control the DRM in songs and other files. For example, the introduction of HDCP slows down the process of even viewing high definition content, because newer high end devices require components like new and expensive high-definition televisions to accept this signal, otherwise the content does not play at all. Blu-Ray and HD-DVD are taking advantage of this particular technology, especially if a person wants to watch a movie in 1080p. (Read more about HDCP here.) This can also apply to new audio devices as well, taking away most, if not all, freedoms for using these kinds of media.

References:

What is HDCP (high definition copy protocol)? http://www.digitalconnection.com/FAQ/HDTV_12.asp

Wikipedia – Digital Rights Management (DRM)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Digital_Rights_Management

 

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~ by Cliff Huizenga on November 10, 2006.

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