FTC Town Hall to Address Digital Rights Management Technologies - Event Takes Place Wednesday, March 25, 2009, in Seattle #539814-00390

Submission Number:
Matthew Zacharuk
Outside the United States
Initiative Name:
FTC Town Hall to Address Digital Rights Management Technologies - Event Takes Place Wednesday, March 25, 2009, in Seattle
Before anything else, I think I should say that I support the right of a person, whether an artist, entertainer, or programmer, to benefit and profit from their work, and towards that end I support DRM. But I do not support DRM at the cost of the consumer. There has been an increasing trend over the last several decades of stricter, and more draconian DRM tools put to use to "protect" copyrighted works from infringement. Most notably in the video game industry. These tools DO NOT WORK. The people around the world who circumvent these tools, these pieces of software, often enjoy the challenge. They do it as much for the entertainment of "beating" the company's DRM software as they do for the entertainment to be gained from playing the game or sharing it online with others. The only people hurt by DRM in its current incarnations, and the only people who WILL be hurt by DRM five years from now - assuming the trend continues - are and will be the legitimate consumers, who are presumed guilty until proven innocent in the eyes of the software companies. Among the most notable scandals relating to this issue has been StarForce. A DRM tool used by certain software companies to protect their products from copyright infringement. But it didn't really protect anything, as the so-called "pirates" who distributed copies of StarForce-protected software were able to cut out the StarForce software, like the cancer it proved to be. Instead, it hurt legitimate consumers, who purchased a piece of software legally and rightly expected to be able to freely use the software. Not only did it tie up system resources, and make their computer less efficient, it invaded their privacy and damaged their property. It scanned their active processes (what programs were running on their PC) and examined the files on their hard drive, searching for anything on their blacklist. If any such program or driver was installed on their PC, or if there was any trace in the registry of the blacklisted software having been on the computer, the StarForce protected software would refuse to run. If there was certain pieces of hardware in the PC, particular brands and models of CD or DVD writer, for example, the StarForce protection would prevent the legally purchased software from running. Sometimes it would even break the hardware, or drastically reduce its performance, by "flashing" the bios (updating the software inside the device which tells it how to work) with a version designed to cripple its function and cause it to wear itself out sooner. In no other industry are consumers, customers, treated this way. You do not walk into a store, and have a security guard frisk you every five minutes to see if you've stolen anything, or root through your belongings on your way out the door in search of stolen goods. You would not tolerate it. And yet there are industries and corporations that get away with it on a regular basis, because quite frankly there aren't many alternatives to their products. They treat ALL of their customers as thieves, invading their privacy and in some cases damaging their property, as mentioned above with StarForce. And for no apparent gain. Illegal copying and distribution of software continues unabated, as the recent release of the video game Spore has proven. (It received a form of DRM that required an online authentication, and allowed a limited number of installs, to prevent illegal copying. It is also billed as the single most illegally downloaded game of all time.) I am not saying that DRM should be removed entirely, or banned or outlawed. All I am saying is that the companies and industries that use it should be restricted from overstepping their bounds, in the name of protecting the rights of the consumer. A programmer should be allowed to protect their investment, but in a way that does not infringe on the consumer's privacy, damage their property, or otherwise limit their ability to enjoy full use of the product they legally purchased.