FTC Town Hall to Address Digital Rights Management Technologies - Event Takes Place Wednesday, March 25, 2009, in Seattle
Many DRM schemes have come and gone over the past few dacades. None for PC games has created as much consternation and furious backlash against software publishers as latest schemes which limit the consumer to a number of installations or activations. As a consumer, I refuse to pay for any software where my ability to use the software over time is hampered because I might exceed the installation or activation limits. The publishers of PC games such as Electronic Arts have argued that such use limits are necessary to combat piracy. This arguement simply does not make sense. Pirated software generally circumvents, or strips out DRM in what ever form it has been employed. It is implicit that installation or activation limits are then a moot point for the users of pirated software because the DRM scheme including the installation or activation limits has been either removed or circumvented. For Electronic Art's recent title Spore, this is exactly what took place. In fact, the pirated version of the game was available on Internet pirate sites before the protected retail version of the game was available via retail sales! The only viable explanation for the use of activation and/or installation limits is to kill the rental or resale of software, not to protect the publisher from piracy. Installation and/or activation limits do not serve the consumers interests for the following reasons: 1. When a consumer buys a product protected in this manner, it is not clear on the packaging what the limitations are. The consumer may see a notice stating that the software employs DRM technology designed to prevent priacy, but they will not see a notice stating that the consumer may only install or activate the product 5 times before it is disabled. Further, the consumer will not be able to tell from the packaging what exactly will cause an installation or activation to used used up. Even if such a notice was on the product, most consumers simply wouldn't understand what it meant. 2. When a consumer installs a product protected in this manner, it is not clear what will cause the use (or loss) of an installation/activation. Any number of changes to the users computer hardware or software configuration may cause the use of an installation or activation. The user will not know until the limit has been exceeded that they had been using them up. 3. Software publishers such as Electonic Arts have a method by which consumers can get more installations or activations if their limit has been exceeded. It requires calling a support representitive at $2.50/minute and convincing them that you are the owner of the product. It is apparently the sole discretion of the publisher's employees whether or not a consumer is legitimate. 4. Some software publishers have employed revokable installations where a consumer can get back a used installation or activation. The problem with this scheme is if all publishers used this method, a consumer would be faced with revoking and re-installation of all of their software when they wanted to make a simple upgrade to their computer hardware. For example, a consumer buys a new video card, the consumer would have to revoke the installation of all protected software, then install the software again after the upgrade has been completed. So a minor upgrade to computer hardware that used to take an hour could take an entire day or more, depending on the number of applictions protected with revokable activation or installation limits. While I understand the software publishers desire to protect their products, most consumers are being and have been misled by this new form of DRM.