DRM getting to be a serious pain in the ass

September 6th, 2006

No pun or euphemism this time, the title says it all. Years ago Jon Lech Johansen broke the code that prevents DVDs from being played on software that isn't supplied by the movie industry, in an effort to play back store bought DVDs on his linux system. He was sued (with considerable pressure from our friends in the US), and cleared of any wrong doing. To complete the story, needless to say, there was not even one piece of software for linux at the time, supplied/endorsed by the industry, to play DVDs. And there isn't today, as far as I know.

So today people can play DVDs on linux, but not in a legal way (depending on where you live, hopefully not in the US). Jon's work has also given rise to projects like divx, xvid and the general mass distribution of movie titles, because he released the code openly (which made it possible to read DVD discs), and not just in a ready-made application. So much for DVDs.

Let's switch to music. If you buy and mp3 player today, most likely it will only work with the egregious Windows Media Player and put all kinds of restrictions on how you can transfer songs to it and how you can transfer songs from it. Not to mention that it completely kills your choice of what music player to use with your mp3 player. Not only that, most players don't support a free and open format like ogg vorbis, they will support mp3, wma and whatever proprietary bs.

If you buy and iPod, you can use it with iTunes (and probably Windows Media Player), but you certainly cannot use it on linux. That is, until someone wrote the code to allow you access to it. You also don't get to play ogg files. iRiver, the manufacturer I have given much credit (and a couple of sales through recommendations, in fact) switched their newest product lines to the Windows Media Player hell, so now if I buy a new player from them, I can't use it on linux anymore. There are companies that do support (or at least not block) linux on their players, but they're few.

So you see, when you buy a song from iTunes today (which you shouldn't, if you value your freedom), you don't actually own the song. You own it on iTunes and your iPod (and probably Windows Media Player), but no further. Not on your iRiver, not on another device or even music player software. I read a blog entry where someone described how they bought a Seinfeld DVD only to find out it was completely useless to them as the person could not play it in linux, because of DRM restrictions.

DRM (Digital Rights Management), ie. restrictions on how you can use digital content, is an abomination and I encourage anyone buying any kind of digital content to be very vigilant about what exactly they are paying for. Check all labels on the box, ask the salesman if necessary (chances are he won't know much). If you buy online, check the licence agreement (or simply google/wikipedia for an opinion on the company's restriction policy). Above all: research, research, research. Or be stuck with a product you can't use and a store that won't let you return it.

:: random entries in this category ::

7 Responses to "DRM getting to be a serious pain in the ass"

  1. ash says:

    There isn't enough Linux users for the companies (media, software and hardware manufacturers) to justify changing DRM. For example when Sony had their music CDs that installed spyware in Windows and opened up security loop holes, there was such an outcry when it was discovered that they removed all protection from their CDs out of fear of negative press.

    With Linux though if you tell people that you can't play DVDs at all the reaction will rarely be "That's not fair" and will usually be "That's what you get for using Linux" or something similar.

  2. numerodix says:

    Yes, but that isn't the point at all. It's not that you cannot play it on linux. It's that you can only play it in an application the media vendor endorses. This means that bs products like Windows Media Player will always be able to play and transfer music, but MyMediaPlayer written by some other company without the money or connections, or by some kid in his basement, won't. Regardless of whether his app runs on Windows or Linux or whatever.

    This is why open formats are so crucial, and why DRM is so evil.

  3. Darren Kirby says:

    I voted with my wallet and bought a Cowan iAudio X5. It mounts just fine under Linux as a regular USB storage device, I can cp and rm files and mkdir to arrange the music as I want it, and it plays Mp3, Ogg Vorbis, Flac, Wav, and yes, even Wma though I would not let it be befouled by such a crap format.

    Rather than complain about the players that don't suit us (Linux/*BSD users/anti-drm people) why not just buy the player that does?

  4. nikkie says:

    I am with you about DRM. I bought a cd lately that cost $18 thinking it would be a nice treat to have some new music. After trying ever piece of software I had to get it to play, I discovered some obscure copy protection that I have no idea what to do with. I finally broke down and booted to Windows, where, lo and behold, WMP played it just fine. I ripped a copy of the cd to my linux drive, booted back to linux, only to find that WMP had crippled the mp3s it had ripped so they sound like crud in anything but WMP.

    *sigh* And people wonder why we are using bit torrent and the like.

    I've got an ipod and used gtkpod to put my music on it. It works ok, but kills things every once in a while such that I have to reformat it and recopy everything. Oh well.

  5. Nawaf says:

    ah, yes, but DRM would soon be a thing of the past..

    The copy protection on iTunes-purchased material has been cracked
    DRM has been cracked recently as well.. it's just a matter of time ;)

  6. numerodix says:

    No, not in the least. DRM is now protected under DMCA, so any *attempts* to subvert DRM have now become _illegal_. DRM will continue to spread, it's only in its inception phase.

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