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The Sad State of DRM Today

Damien Barrett

I've got two different DRM stories for you to read today. The first is more dangerous than the second, but the second is more annoying because it affects iTunes and the iPod. Both, as far as I can tell, only affect Windows users. But we should all be aware of what the media companies are doing with DRM.

Story, the First
Sony has been releasing CD's that apparently (on Windows machines) actually install a rootkit on users' computers without their knowledge. This article is highly-technical and definitely Windows-geekified, but it's still an astonishing development in the world of DRM. Sony is apparently so paranoid about people copying songs from a purchased CD, they are willing to cause irreparable harm to a user's computer. If an inexperienced user attempts to uninstall the rootkit, it can cripple his computer. There's a lawsuit waiting to happen here, I'm sure.

Story, the Second
Again, we have Sony pulling strings in the DRM market. This is a well-written 4-party story about how weird DRM has gotten and how, in this case, the DRM doesn't appear to be about protecting the songs from being copied, but about disabling their playability in iTunes and the iPod. So DRM, as the author points out, is now being used as a competitive weapon rather than for anti-piracy.

After reading these stories, I am, like many others, on the verge of a personal boycott of Sony's products. I don't necessarily like Apple's DRM, but it's not crippling my computer or overly blocking how I use the songs I purchase. The same cannot be said of how Sony is approaching DRM.

For the record, I think Apple should open up iTunes-purchased songs to be playable on other MP3 players. For instance, I'd like to be able to buy a song from the iTunes store and then play it on a PSP or a Creative MP3 player. I also believe the iPod is the best portable audio player on the market and that it's stayed at the top not because of lock-in but because of its superior design. And I don't think that's going to change.

What does have to change is media companies treating their customers like criminals. They need to stop surreptitiously installing software on our computers and allow us reasonable use of any media we purchase. I've always felt that Apple's DRM is a relatively sane middle ground between the "no-DRM" and the "crazy-Nazi-DRM" camps. These developments by Sony (seemingly the worst offender here) are only reaffirming that.

But don't just take my word for it. Go read the stories and make your own decisions on what's acceptable and not acceptable.

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