FTC Town Hall to Address Digital Rights Management Technologies - Event Takes Place Wednesday, March 25, 2009, in Seattle
I think the FTC and any government organizations need to take a very careful look at the role DRM truly plays in the world of digital media and whether it has a net positive or negative effect on consumers, businesses and the economy. While the ideal behind DRM is noble, the execution and the vigor with which it is handled goes far beyond what should be considered reasonable. My personal experiences have been quite off-putting. I work as a software developer and have on multiple occasions found myself unable to properly use a purchased piece of software because the DRM protection prevented the program from running if I had previously loaded a 'blacklisted' program from another company. This blacklisted program is a commonly used system analysis tool distributed by none other than Microsoft themselves, and to top things off the blacklisted application was not even running at the same time as the DRM protected application. The DRM protected application simply detected that it had been run earlier in the same session. One then has to restart their computer in order to use the DRM protected application. Given the amount of work I do on a computer, these problems tend to compound the more I use application protected by such draconian DRM schemes. While the example cited above may seem a bit outside of the realm of the common user's experience, there are countless similar examples I hear every day. Friends and family complaining about being unable to use media devices because their TV isn't new enough to support HDCP, kids unable to use purchased music because the music can no longer phone home due the the music stores going out of business (this could arguably be attributed partly to the absurd DRM scheme), soldiers overseas unable to play video games during their free time due to more phone home schemes, and let us not forget Sony BMG's installation of dangerous rootkit software prior to license agreement from users, and without any method of removal. This last blunder not only caused errors including system crashes on users' machines, but opened serious security holes. I think these companies have shown a complete disregard for their customer base and the public at large, and have made it very obvious that they are willing to overstep reasonable bounds in order to protect their revenue streams. What these companies seem to either miss, ignore or simply not care about is that they are alienating the public and damaging their own holdings and the economy at large. There is rarely a day that goes by where I do not read reading about another absurd 'copy protection' mechanism causing users grief, and from what I have seen this has done nothing to stem the tide of piracy. It is all too obvious that you can get any piece of digital media the day it is released, if not earlier, without regard for DRM. This all begs the ultimate question of who DRM really hurts? I hope it is a question that the FTC will keep in mind.