FTC Town Hall to Address Digital Rights Management Technologies - Event Takes Place Wednesday, March 25, 2009, in Seattle #539814-00763

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FTC Town Hall to Address Digital Rights Management Technologies - Event Takes Place Wednesday, March 25, 2009, in Seattle

DRM should be abolished or severely restricted for digital purchases (Music, Movies, Games, etc) as it harms non-technology savvy consumers by forcing them to purchase the items multiple times or undertake cumbersome processes in order to use the product in common sense fashion. For an example I present the story of my in-laws purchasing digital music in order to listen to it on their CD player in their car, on their computer, and on their digital music players (iPod and Zune). My father in-law a few years ago grew tired of purchasing CDs to listen to in his car as the constant switching of CDs was a hassle and the quality of the current albums (a few good songs mixed in with the majority of ‘filler’ songs) had diminished. At that time, he came to me and asked if there was something he could do on his computer (the second one he had ever purchased) to help him. I showed him how to use Windows Media Player to import his own CDs, organize the music using tagging, make playlists of his favorite songs, and burn them as audible CDs that he could listen to in his car. After showing him this, he was extremely happy with the process and did not have any issues. After a while, I also showed him how to purchase single tracks for the providers in Windows Media Player. This included the Walmart Music store, the MSN music service, and the Yahoo Music service. He purchased approximately 50 songs and added them to his playlists so he could burn them to audible CDs to listen to in his car. Again he did not have any issues with this process. Fast forward a couple of years and his wife wants a digital music player to replace the portable CD player that she owned. At the time the iPod was extremely popular, so she decides to purchase that player. Now she wants to listen to the songs that her husband had purchased from Walmart, etc., but due to the DRM and the incompatibility between the iPod and Windows Media Player she can not listen to that music. Fortunately for them, they came to me before they went and repurchased the songs for $50 from iTunes. I then had to show him how to take all of his DRM’ed tracks, burn them to audible CDs, re-import them into iTunes, and then use iTunes to re-tag all the songs with the artist information, etc. It took him about 4 hours to complete this process. For the rest of the songs that were in his library (also WMA files) that were imported from his CDs, it took about 30 minutes for iTunes to automatically convert them from WMA to AAC to be compatible with her iPod. So his options were to either spend $50 to re-purchase the songs from iTunes or spend 4 hours of his own time to burn, re-rip, and re-tag his songs. Neither of these options are consumer friendly when compared to the automatic process that occurred when importing the songs that he ripped from his CDs that did not have DRM on them. Fast forward another year and he buys a new car with an audio input jack. He decides that he wants to buy a digital music player to listen to in his car. After looking at all the players he decides to buy a Microsoft Zune. Now this Zune player is also not compatible with Windows Media Player even though it is made by the same company, and he is faced with the option of having to either purchase the songs from the Zune marketplace or re-rip and re-tag the songs that he has on audible CD. Again for the non-DRM’ed tracks, the Zune Music Player imported them automatically in just a few minutes. I think the solution is to force manufactures to either make their DRM interoperable via mandatory licensing or only let them use one DRM format that has been signed off by industry at large. Otherwise, I think you should ban DRM as being anti-competitive as it locks the consumer into only one manufacturer and forces them to re-purchase the media or go through a cumbersome process if they wish to use a different one.