FTC Town Hall to Address Digital Rights Management Technologies - Event Takes Place Wednesday, March 25, 2009, in Seattle
For a period of four years, I worked as a Geek Squad technician at a local Best Buy. As the resident computer geeks and generally technologically-adept employees, we dealt with a large number of both problems with and questions about media affected by DRM. I wish to submit some problems I had to help customers with during the last 4 years surrounding Digital Rights Management, to give an idea of how the general public, those not terribly familiar with, adept with or interested in technology, are affected by DRM when they attempt to try a new technology. - Broken Media: Customers purchasing PC games were occasionally locked out due to DRM restrictions from playing the game. These were people, often children, who had been given the game as a gift. Sometimes, false positives by the DRM software caused the game to lock out, rendering the game worthless. These people generally lacked technical know-how to resolve or even know the source of the problem, so they were forced to either try to return the game or pay extra to have the problem resolved by Geek Squad. "Try" to return the game is important, because they could not return the game, either. Publishers of games, CDs, DVDs and other media do not accept returns at the point of retail, so the customer had to pay to have the game installed or incur cost to mail it back the publisher, all because the publisher's DRM was non-functional, through no fault of the customer. - Collateral Damage to Devices: Some DRM methods, most notoriously Sony's rootkit that came along with their music CDs without notification, actually damaged computers that customers had to pay to have repaired. In Sony's case, the optical drive was often completely non-functional because Sony's replacement of upper and lower driver filters on the optical drive either was not robust software or flagged a false positive. These drivers are easy to fix...but only if you are a professional. Regular customers cannot rectify these issues, and had to pay for the repair. - Device/Vendor Lock-In: DRM that locks individuals to certain devices prevents customer choice in future purchases. iTunes has been the most obvious example, as customers purchasing hundreds or thousands of songs since the iPod debut could not port those songs to another service or put them on any non-Apple device. I had customers ask about other devices, and after learning that their songs were purchased from iTunes, they could not use any of their music if they purchased a new, non-Apple device. - Prevention of Original Media Protection: Customers with children wanted to purchase a DVD of a movie, but did not want to risk damage to the original disc in order to let their young children handle the discs themselves. The inability to make a cheap copy of a DVD instead of risking destruction or loss of the original was often confusing and restrictive of their desire to protect their property, but still allow children to use it. There are other examples, but the main thing I saw, as an employee selling services who was also familiar with many aspects of the use of DRM by different companies, was that while many people were never affected by Digital Rights Management, others were absolutely affected in a negative fashion. These non-tech-savvy individuals did not know what DRM was, did not know it was present (in most cases never being informed their purchases used DRM) and were confused and upset when it restricted what they thought were legal and legitimate uses of their purchases. As someone who knew the answers and could help, but for a price as an employee, I saw the frustration of these people who made purchases of movies, music, games and software that was not returnable at the place they purchased it, did not inform them of the restrictions it placed upon use and sometimes did not function at all, requiring them to pay extra money to get the exact use of something that they thought they'd paid for in the original purchase.