EFF: #KillAllDRM

The EFF’s Parker Higgins makes the case that DRM in general makes us less secure,

But while it may not be as intuitive yet, DRM on digital media that you don’t own is also a major threat. Whether it’s books from the public library, streaming songs from Spotify, or TV shows from Netflix, wrapping media in DRM software—especially when it brings with it a cloud of legal uncertainty—is not just a bad way to enforce license contracts; it’s also a danger to our rights and our security.

That’s because DRM in any form requires us to give up control over our own devices to the companies distributing the media. That proposition ranges from unpalatable on a gaming console, to repulsive on laptops and phones loaded with sensors and personal info, to truly alarming when those computers are embedded in machines we trust with our safety.

These aren’t speculative possibilities, either; in the most recent round of rulemaking on DRM-enforcement laws, EFF requested (and was granted) an exemption for security research on the computers in cars. Just last month we filed a complaint with the FDA about DRM restrictions inmedical devices. The threat of a DRM “lockdown” of our critical devices, forcing us to give up ownership of our technology in the misguided pursuit of limiting copies or enforcing contractual limitations, is very real, and only getting more so.

Those problems are fundamental to DRM and the legal and technical structures that support it. They are just as pronounced when the DRM is designed to enforce unacceptable limitations on ownership as when they hew closely to agreed-upon restrictions. Even if we never encounter the device that won’t play our music or the video game that stops working when the DRM servers shut down, we still give up something crucially important when we allow media to come wrapped in unaccountable software.


Does DRM Prevent Piracy?

Back in April 2012, Tor books decided to abandon DRM schemes and begin releasing all of its books DRM-free. A year later, in 2013, Tor summed up its approach to piracy and the results after a year (emphasis added),

But DRM-protected titles are still subject to piracy, and we believe a great majority of readers are just as against piracy as publishers are, understanding that piracy impacts on an author’s ability to earn an income from their creative work. As it is, we’ve seen no discernible increase in piracy on any of our titles, despite them being DRM-free for nearly a year.

The move has been a hugely positive one for us, it’s helped establish Tor and Tor UK as an imprint that listens to its readers and authors when they approach us with a mutual concern—and for that we’ve gained an amazing amount of support and loyalty from the community. And a year on we’re still pleased that we took this step with the imprint and continue to publish all of Tor UK’s titles DRM-free.

At least one company gets it.

Weaponizing Video Game Reviews?

File this under First World Problems, but it continues to amaze how fawning and deferential those who cover video games for a living are toward the industry they nominally cover rather than work for. Today’s exhibit is Thomas McDonald’s column in the August 2012 issue of Maximum PC (page 10 of the PDF archive of the issue) which is concerned with the horrors of gamers giving Diablo III one-star reviews because of its requirement that users always maintain an online connection in order to play.

McDonald writes,

I don’t think always-on DRM is such a hot idea, but it’s Blizzard’s game, and if they feel it’s necessary to protect the integrity of both the product and the forthcoming real-money auction house, and can get it to work, that’s their call. At this late date, no one is buying Diablo III without foreknowledge of the DRM issue, so you either suck it up knowing that’s the price of admission, or you just shut up about it and buy another game.

It is always endearing when people who already have a sizable platform to express their views and have those views heard by others turn around inform those who don’t that their only options are either to “suck it up . . . or just shut up about it”.

Or, you choose option three: Spam public review sites with hostile “reviews,” calling D3 a horrible, awful, hateful sack of pus that probably causes cancer and shingles and kills kittens for fun. And then give it a score of “0,” not because of any inherent problems with the design or content, but because you want to punish the publisher.

To McDonald, requiring an always online connection is not an inherent design problem and those who think it is should shut up about it already. Lets unpack that a bit.

At launch, that always online DRM prevented many people who had paid for the game from being able to actually play it. The always online requirement effectively takes the problems experienced by MMO launches and applies them to every game with this feature. Maybe that’s not an issue to McDonald, but for many people that is in and of itself an inherent problem with a game like Diablo 3.

Despite what McDonald seems to think, it is also not necessarily the case that every video game purchaser hangs on every word put out by the media or company press releases. Consider this Amazon review of Diablo 3 that focuses on the online DRM,

I pre-ordered this game very early on and thought to play while on deployment during my down time, then found out I had to have an active internet connection which is impossible out here. I promptly returned the game for refund (thanks Amazon) and have sworn off Blizzard for good, 10 years of waiting for nothing. I hope your greedy bottom line is worth losing a lot of long time fans of the game. Blizzard you’ll not get another damn dime of my money, ever!

Jesus, just suck it up and buy another game or shut up about it already!

McDonald has no time for the idea that this sort of thing is a legitimate consumer protest against companies as Blizzard,

I’m supposed to understand these outbursts as a form of consumer protest, but this kind of protest is not nuance thought. It’s reactionary.

. . .

It also totally compromises the tools that allow the public to evaluate products. It’s a way of weaponizing public review systems like Metacritic and Amazon, rendering them incapable of conveying useful information.

I’m surprised McDonald didn’t just come out and say that giving a game low rating simply because of its DRM is Communism.

Being able to give a game a low score solely because of its obnoxious DRM problems is a feature, not a bug, of online review systems. Diablo 3’s low score on Amazon and Metacritic is conveying extremely useful information to consumers, many of whom don’t understand the full implications of this sort of DRM.

Why It Is Better to Pirate Rather Than Buy

Teleread has a look at an all too typical case of what happens to people who are honest enough to actually put their hard earned money down and pay for ebooks crippled by DRM.

Then I bought an iPad, and suddenly reading eBooks began to crowd out my paper book reading. I wasn’t alone. By Fall 2010 there were new reading apps coming out every few weeks to target the excited iReading populace. I happily downloaded all of them and tried each one out, looking for the perfect eReading experience. Then I ran into a problem.

My iPhone wouldn’t let me authorize any new apps that utilized Adobe’s DRM. I had run out of the allotted authorizations. By March of this year, I began to contact Adobe to fix the situation, but each web case was “withdrawn”, which is to say “dismissed without solving”. I called tech support on multiple numbers and each time I was told that they only supported Adobe Digital Editions via the web. Some helped me open a case for Tier2 support, yet each of those web cases was withdrawn.


. . .


I had to delete the app and reinstall it. As I feared, this caused problems when reauthorizing with Adobe. I got the dreaded “Adobe Activation Request Error 2004”. I was locked out of  my library book. I started calling Adobe again, getting the usual runaround. The one time I thought I finally got help was when a tech  said he would happily reset my account, but just reset my password instead. Today I got another “Withdrawn”. Adobe would not reset my activation account for love nor money.

I think it is clear what is going on here — The Pirate Bay has clearly infiltrated content and software companies. They don’t want satisfied, paying customers. Rather, they want to create such an awful experience for average consumers that everyone gives up and just torrents everything.

It’s sad, really.