FTC Town Hall to Address Digital Rights Management Technologies - Event Takes Place Wednesday, March 25, 2009, in Seattle
I offer an example of how Digital Rights Management technology has hampered my ability to purchase content. Especially in the case where content is to be consumed on a personal computer, the DRM scheme is implemented using software. The use of this software is necessary to access the purchased content. Content providers, however, are not required to clearly label the system requirements for such software. This can cause several problems for the consumer, illustrated below: First, should a product come with DRM, there is no guarantee or assurance to the consumer that the mechanism in question actually works. Especially in the case of video games, DRM technology can and does fail in ways that prevent customers from using legally purchased content, content which is often non-returnable after it has been opened. Refer to other comments mentioning the SecuRom DRM software for examples. Also note that copy protection on some music CDs render them unplayable on certain CD players, including those in the portable, car, or home stereo category. The consumer has no way of knowing if his or her particular setup is compatible. Second, the DRM software need not be universally compatible or available, and often isn't. While expecting manufactures to implement their DRM on all possible platforms is unreasonable, trouble arises because they do not disclose which platforms are supported. Perhaps a video game has DRM protections that function acceptably on Microsoft Windows XP, but not on Vista (this based on anecdotal evidence). And it is more frequently the case that such software won't function on or isn't available for MacOS or Linux. Such users have no way of knowing their content is incompatible with their computer system. Third, the consumer has no guarantee or assurance that the DRM software will not irreversibly alter their computer software, often in ways that hinder normal operation. See again comments about SecuRom. Also recall that a few years ago, Sony BMG released music CDs which irreversibly installed software when inserted in PCs that irreversibly compromised the security of the operating system. Fourth, recall that due to legal restrictions enacted by the DMCA, the user has no recourse to overcome limitations of DRM software. Should compatibility problems arise, the user is not only technically restricted from consuming the content, but legally restricted from finding a way around their problem. Finally, all of the above problems are exacerbated by lack of uniform disclosure. There is no reliable consumer indicator that a product contains DRM technology, nor what problems may arise from the DRM shipped with the product. There is little in place to protect consumers unable to access content because of faulty DRM, and often no way to return merchandise that is rendered useless by it. The use of DRM technology alone has made purchasing content a hassle with compatibility and usability failings, and the lack of clear labeling on products has made it a nightmare. I recommend the Commission examine the possibility of mandating compatibility labeling for DRM Technology at the very least to protect consumers.