FTC Town Hall to Address Digital Rights Management Technologies - Event Takes Place Wednesday, March 25, 2009, in Seattle
As a consumer, I find DRM objectionable because DRM-restricted media suffer compatibility problems, inconsistent and unintuitive licensing, and limited longevity. All of these problems can be demonstrated in the digital music market, and it would be a shame to needlessly extend these same problems to other markets. The compatibility problems DRM can introduce have been readily apparent in the digital music market. People have been buying digital music players they call "MP3 players" because the MP3 format popularized digital music. However, when they went to download digital music, they were almost invariably restricted to one of two formats: WMA and iTunes. No one device supported both formats, so some users who hadn't followed the market bought music they couldn't play. My father was one such consumer. He received a digital media player for his birthday, so he went and downloaded a track from the largest music sites--iTunes. However, his music player only supported WMA, so his money was wasted. While, the digital media market seems to be moving toward a less restricted format, it would be silly to repeat this same mistake in other media markets. Music markets also demonstrated another problem with DRM, licensing that was inconsistent and unintuitive to the user. If we are completely honest, the idea of "licensing" media is alien to most users. Most users think they "own" the media they buy, in fact, the users are buying a perpetual license to peruse the media they "buy" for their own use. While this notion is alien to many consumers consumer, it cannot reasonably be discarded without damaging the copyright that gives content creators the ability to profit from their works. However, even consumers unfamiliar with the notion of licensing have understood what constituted fair use of their licenses and what amounted to theft. However, the digital music market could be rather unkind to the many of customers who were unfamiliar with the idea of licensing. At one point, the digital media market offered customers accustomed to perpetual licenses and rather fuzzy with the notion of licensing limited licenses. Such licenses typically expired when the media was used on a second, third, or fourth computer. As a result, some customers who used multiple computers to maintain the collections on the digital media players. This happened to a woman I dated. She lacked a computer of her own, so she would update the iTunes collection on her iPod on friends' and relatives' computers as the opportunity arose. However, eventually, iTunes started deleting the songs from her iPod, and she didn't understand why until she mentioned it to me and I explained. While this woman ran into the problem sooner than most users would, it is a problem that will face those users who don't upgrade their DRM-restricted tracks to unrestricted formats. Even worse, it could be very tough for a user to keep track of when expiration terms might be triggered. Different tracks have often had different expiration terms (often on the same music service), so a user with a 100 tracks (8 to 10 CD's worth) would many different licenses to track. Even worse, a customer whose computer was being repaired would have to hasten his collection's demise to maintain it until his computer was returned. Even if we set customer confusion about licensing terms and the difficulty of tracking varying one aside, longevity remains an issue. Traditionally, consumers have been able to archive their media, and while many have already learned that DRM-restricted media has a built-in life span, still more will find this a nasty surprise. This disincentive alone is enough to steer me clear of DRM-restricted media in most cases. On the whole, I think the restrictions of DRM devalue media for the consumer, and I don't think consumers will be the only ones hurt. Less valuable media may command lower volumes and prices, which hurt producers as well.