FTC Town Hall to Address Digital Rights Management Technologies - Event Takes Place Wednesday, March 25, 2009, in Seattle
Digital Rights Management Technology is a profound misstep by media production companies. The flaw is not the technology itself, it is a solution to the problem that content provider's think they have. The flaw in DRM lies within the philosophy that a company can control digital information. DRM technology, as it is implemented in most cases, relies on the idea that a computer can deliver content, but that it can also discern between legitimate customers and those who have stolen the information. The problem, simply, is that once the information has been put into someone's computer, it becomes manipulable by that person. There is no getting around the fact that in order to be of any use, movies, music, and software must be computer readable. If information can be read by a computer, it can be manipulated by a computer. Piracy is so easy because DRM technology is inherently flawed. Ideal DRM technology cannot intelligently discern between legitimate and illegitimate customers, and so it does nothing but cause problems for legitimate users. Meanwhile, Pirates need only study up and figure out the way to beat the new technology, which they have proven they are more than willing and capable of doing. The frustrating part of this problem, from the standpoint of a consumer like myself, is that there are plenty of examples available to media production companies of how to effectively control content. The most successful example is Steam, by Valve Software. Steam is a platform for releasing games such as CounterStrike, HalfLife, Portal, Team Fortress, and many other staples of online gaming. Very few people pirate these games, even though they are amongst the most popular games of all time. The Reason: The games all require that they be registered with a CD Key Code (a string of digits included with the retail game) with the Steam Platform. This is a small inconvenience to the user, but rather than just allowing their customers to twist in the wind like so many other content providers, Valve compensates the user for the inconvenience. Every game that is registered with the Steam platform can be downloaded again, at no extra charge, from Steam. If a user loses the installation cd and needs to reinstall, Steam will let them download the game again. Steam also keeps track of updates to all the games in its library, automatically keeping the user's software up to date for them. In addition to this, Steam facilitates matchmaking, allowing players to find servers with other players in which to play the games in their library. Steam also allows users to keep track of friends, or players they have encountered recently, so that they can meet up with them in the future for a rematch. In these, and many other ways, Steam both ensures the content of the producer is being payed for, while making the end user feel like they are having a better experience. Content providers think that they can sell a product that is hampered by DRM without adding anything to the deal. Unfortunately, a pirate can always offer that product cheaper and without the strings. What content providers have to do is make the user want to legitimately use their works, rather than just trying to force them to do so.