FTC Town Hall to Address Digital Rights Management Technologies - Event Takes Place Wednesday, March 25, 2009, in Seattle
DRM is anti-consumer and at the end of the day renders the intellectual property it seeks to protect valueless. Although my discussion here is limited to video games, the same concepts apply to the music and movie industries. In recent months, game companies like EA have introduced draconian DRM that requires that one activate the game online upon install, with a limited number of activations thereafter. If one exceeds the number of installs/activations allowed, one must purchase another copy of the game or be treated like a criminal by the customer service department, having to explain why one needs more installs/activations. Starting with online activation, which also raises some privacy concerns as well, the concern here is that there is no guarantee that the servers used for this purpose will be around in the future. Right now, I can plop any old game I have into an older computer, or into my computer with the proper DOS emulator, and play it. There is no guarantee that I’ll be able to do this years down the road with games that require this online activation, and therefore, the game CDs just become useless. Limited installs/activations render the game valueless from the beginning because, effectively, you have purchased something you don’t actually own. Consider that limited installs and activations make it impossible to sell or trade your copy of the game at a later time, making the video game industry the only industry in which you are unable to sell or trade what you’ve purchased. Consider as well that any change to your computer would use up an activation…if you update Windows or if you upgrade your video card, RAM, or hard drive…things that most gamers regularly do to their computers in an effort to keep up with the endless advances in technology. Consider as well the fact that computers are notoriously unreliable and have components that break quite frequently, which would also use up installs/activations. Once the allotted activations/installs are used up, in order to continue playing a game you purchased, you would need to justify your need for more activations to the customer service department (as stated above) or buy another copy of the same game, at the same inflated price. So I’ll pose this question now: if I can’t sell something I supposedly own, and I am limited to the number of times I can use something I supposedly own, and there is no guarantee that I’ll be able to continue using something I own in the future, then what I have actually bought? Where is the value to me, as a consumer, in purchasing the product? The answer to the above is that I’ve bought nothing. The game CDs and DVDs are automatically worth nothing because I have none of the typical rights that actual ownership typically conveys. Yes, the game content itself is the game developer’s intellectual property and subject to copyright, but when they sell me a CD or DVD of the game, that particular CD or DVD (and the license to use the intellectual property contained therein) is mine to do with as I choose. Copyright does not give the game companies, the RIAA, or anyone else the right to cheat consumers or treat paying customers like criminals.