L'Ombre de l'Olivier

The Shadow of the Olive Tree

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10 January 2009 Blog Home : January 2009 : Permalink

My FTC DRM Comment

Background - as noted at TeleRead, Ars Technica and other places, the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) is holding a Town Hall to Address Digital Rights Management Technologies on Wednesday, March 25, 2009, in Seattle. They are soliciting comment and suggestions here and made the official announcement here. The latter describes the Town Hall agenda to be:

Opening remarks; demonstrations of DRM-related technology; panel discussions regarding burdens on, and benefits for, consumers, and other market and legal issues involving DRM; a review of industry best practices; and consideration of the need for government involvement to better protect consumers.

and at the comment page the comment subject is described as:

Digital rights management (DRM) refers to technologies typically used by hardware manufacturers, publishers, and copyright holders to attempt to control how consumers access and use media and entertainment content. Among other issues, the workshop will address the need to improve disclosures to consumers about DRM limitations. Interested parties may submit written comments or original research on this topic.

My comment (tracking number 539814-00405) on this is as follows:

I have done research (documented at my blog with follow up) that shows that DRM is utterly ineffective when it comes to preventing internet users from locating a "pirated" version of popular books. I am not a computer gamer but a cursory search has shown me that unlocked versions popular games which are known to be "DRM-locked" are also easily downloadable, much the same applies to other DRM protected content.

One reason why otherwise law-abiding people may search out unlocked versions of content that they wish to read (play etc.), or tools to unlock content that they have purchased, is that DRM schemes frequently end up orphaning purchasers as the provider of the DRMed content ends support for that DRM mechanism or download site or the consumer upgrades to a new computer. The dilemma is summed up neatly in this cartoon:
The DRM dilemma
A recent example of this problem is the ending of the contract between Fictionwise and Overdrive which means that purchasers of eBooks from Fictionwise which were supplied there by Overdrive will no longer be able to reobtain them after Jan 31, 2009 in the original format, if at all.

A second reason why consumers may wish to avoid DRMed products is that the DRM mechanism may break other software, not work in their environment or open up a security risk. One good example of this was the Rootkit which was distributed for a short time by Sony until pressure forced them to stop.

Considering these issues I believe it would be wise for the FTC to mandate a "health warning" on DRMed products requiring that the DRM scheme (and potential side-effects) be clearly set out and to require that providers of DRMed products refund users who are unable to use the product.