interweb freedom

(formerly Stop Usage Based Billing)


Posted by Laurel L. Russwurm on December 22, 2009

It’s awfully close to Christmas but today Michael Geist’s blog looked at Mihály Ficsor’s writings in praise of DRM and anti-circumvention laws. It occurred to me that this season of consumption would be an excellent time to look at DRM from a consumer’s point of view.

After all, most of us don’t even realize that DRM is a deliberate crippling of the products we pay good money to buy.

NoUBBDRM or “Digital Rights Management” describes a variety of methods used to physically limit the way a purchaser may use a product they have purchased. In this way the manufacturer continues to control the product after they have been paid for it. DRM can be applied to many different things. Possibly the most common application for DRM is for DVDs and DVD players. DVDS have DRM coded in to limit what machine it can be played in. Manufacturers have established “Country Codes” so that a DVD manufactured in England can’t be played in Canada.

DVD region code map

Wikipedia DVD Region Code map by Luxo

DVD DRM was accepted by consumers without question because we were used having a similar problem with video tape. Most people still don’t realize that DRM crippling of the things we purchase is done deliberately. Who could imagine that governments would allow manufacturers to deliberately build in defects to the products that they then sell to citizens.

natural limits on video tape

Because of different levels of technology in different parts of the world, there were different formats for video tape. This meant that an NTSC video tape would play in North American VCRs on North American television sets, but if you mailed the same tape to your cousin in the Netherlands she wouldn’t be able to play it because her VCR and television would only play the PAL format. If you wanted to send your home movies abroad you could go to a professional facility and have them converted. Quite expensive, but worth it if you wanted to keep up with geographically distant relatives.

The Internet and improving technology breaks down geographical barriers. DRM deliberately replaces them.

unnatural limits placed on DVDs

This was not the case for DVDs. There was no limiting factor on DVDs. DVD’s can happily play on any DVD player anywhere in the world… or they could were it not for DRM. Because the “country code” on a DVD is an artificial restriction, deliberately achieved through deployment of DRM.

DVDs I can’t buy because of DRM

BBC’s MY FAMILY stars Zoë Wanamaker and Robert Lindsay

About a decade ago I became addicted to a wonderful BBC sitcom called My Family that the Family Channel was airing very late at night (which was good since I certainly didn’t want my innocent child watching it back then). This is a screamingly funny TV series about the breathtakingly dysfunctional Harper family. In North America, only the first few seasons are available on DVD, and the North American distributor apparently has no intention of releasing the later seasons on DVD here.

There is no real reason why I should not be able to purchase the later seasons on DVD because BBC offers them for sale in the UK. But the country code DRM prevents me from buying them without moving to region 2.

This limits consumers to only buying DVDs that are made for our region. As well as causing artificial barriers to customers wanting to buy goods that should be available, it means that BBC is not making the money that they could be making if they could simply ship DVDs direct to those of us who want to purchase them.

I’ve also accidentally purchased a Region 2 DVD. “An Ideal Husband” was a film I very much wanted to see, so I bought it from an Amazon vendor. Imagine my surprise when I couldn’t play it. I had assumed that since the vendor was American it would be a region 1 DVD. Fortunately they gave me a refund. How many other wrong region DVDs get thrown out because they won’t play. It would be different if it wasn’t a deliberate crippling of the product.

scanner DRM

EPSON Perfection V500

EPSON Perfection V500

Because I scan a lot of photographs and negatives, I bought a top of the line flat bed scanner, an Epson Perfection V500 Photo to be exact. My brother the professional artist was aghast that I would spend three times as much as he did for my scanner. But when I am scanning it’s a lot, so the faster speed this one offered made a lot of sense.

There are things that really annoy me though. I use the “professional” interface to scan so I have the most control allowed. Yet every time I want to scan at a very high DPI (necessary for enlargements and high quality photo restoration) I get asked if I really want to do this along with a warning that it will take a long time. I KNOW it will take a long time. Presumably a professional (anyone using the “professional” settings) should know this also. There is no reason I need this warning every time, it slows the process down. Why is this non-sentient bit of hardware presuming to dictate to me? I don’t know if that’s DRM or if it is just annoying.

There is for sure some DRM built into the thing. I was disgusted when the scanner’s DRM kicked in and prevented me from scanning Canadian currency. No, I’m not a Counterfeiter, I’m a blogger. I already knew that it is perfectly legal for Canadians to scan money so long as you follow the rules.

“Reproducing anything in the likeness of a current bank note is an offence under the Criminal Code
Section 457 of the Criminal Code provides that anyone one who makes, publishes, prints, executes, issues, distributes or circulates, including by electronic or computer-assisted means, anything in the likeness of a current bank note is guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction and is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months and a maximum fine of $2,000.

No one shall be convicted of the above offence if the likeness of the Canadian bank note is

1. printed;
2. less than 3/4 or greater than 1 1/2 times the length or width of the bank note; and
3. in black and white or only one-sided.

No one shall be convicted of the above offence if the likeness was produced with the permission of the Bank. ”

Bank of Canada: Bank Notes

HP computer photo quality  printer

HP D7160

My scanner warns me that scanning money may be illegal, and takes me to a website that tells what the scanning laws are for all the countries around the word. And following through to the Canada part it confirmed what I knew: my scanning activities are legal. BUT. The scanner STILL wouldn’t let me scan money.

Obviously the DRM is preventing me from using the scanner to scan material I am legally entitled to scan. For the integral image I needed for my blog post I had to get the image somewhere else. That is ridiculous. This is like a hammer telling me I am not allowed to drive that nail. It is surely the last time I’ll buy an Epson scanner.

printer DRM

There is DRM built in to my beautiful printer and/or ink cartridges. It makes beautiful images but the cartridges say that they are empty after they have printed a set number of pages, not because they are empty but because they are programmed to be empty.

Even more fiendishly clever, the ink cartridges won’t print after a pre-programmed date, even if the ink is still fine. So be careful about buying large stocks of discounted cartridges.

Use the Kindle keyboard to add annotations to text

When you consider that ink jet printer ink is the most expensive liquid in the world you can get an idea of the problem. Because of the DRM not only can I not use ink that won’t come out, I can’t refill the cartridges either. The printer prints beautifully, but it would be less expensive for me to go out to a copy shop to have prints made. Last time I buy an HP printer.

ebook DRM

The most famous case of DRM though was Amazon Kindle‘s withdrawal of the ebook “1984”. People had purchased electronic copies, but it turned out that there was a copyright challenge and the book consumers had purchased was deleted from their Kindle ebook reader the next time the Kindle phoned home.

I don’t know if this is true or an urban legend, but I had heard that a PHD candidate had made great use of the annotation feature for their doctoral dissertation on 1984, and when the ebook was deleted, so were the notes.

video editing DRM

I have bought two different video editing software packages to be able to edit home movies. Since DVDs are so cheap it should be a wonderful and inexpensive way for families to distribute home movies. Unfortunately, although I loved the intuitive interface provided by the first software package I bought I could not successfully burn my home movie to DVD. Which is why I bought a second software package. It’s interface is less intuitive but it does other things better. Yet it too has a hard time burning a DVD. When you want to give home movies to geriatric family members you want them to be able to put it in the DVD player and just be able to play it. However my home movies only play in some DVD players. I am convinced that this is a DRM issue.

I also have a VHS-DVD recorder so I could transfer home movies from VHS and video cam. Unfortunately, when the VHS image breaks up, my recorder tells me that I am infringing copyright and shuts off. I’m not quite sure whose copyright my family visit to Niagara Falls infringes on… I’d have thought that since it was my camera, and *my* family, it was my own copyright. Funny, the VHS-DVD recorder cost about five times what buying a VHS and a DVD recorder would have cost. I bought it for convenience of transferring my home movies, but it would have been better to have bought better quality units and cabled them together. I realize that Big Copyright doesn’t put a high dollar value on my home movies, but let me tell you, to me they have far more value than anything Hollywood has produced.

picture of a forest

DRM is bad for Nature

DRM and the environment

As an environmentally aware citizen I am horrified at how much material is being consigned to our garbage dumps due to DRM.

DRM and consumers

When consumers buy goods we expect them to work. DRM allows manufacturers to deliberately cripple the machines and media we buy and prevent us from having them work the way that they should. The justification for this is that we are going to behave criminally if these controls are not put in place. Further, laws like ACTA and the EU agreement strive to make it illegal to circumvent the DRM.

That is wrong.

On the assumption that consumers are going to steal from them, the products we are purchase in good faith are deliberately crippled. From a consumer’s point of view, it certainly looks as though manufacturers are committing fraud against me on the assumption that I am a criminal.

That is wrong.

STOP Usage Based Billing


11 Responses to “DRM is BAD”

  1. […] interweb freedom: DRM is Bad […]

  2. […] DRM DRM is BAD […]

  3. […] DRM is BAD […]

  4. epson perfection v300 said

    what is DRM?
    I dont understand.

    • You may be in the wrong business. I’ve included the first line but you really ought to go and read the whole Digital Rights Management article out on Wikipeda. Understanding this would certainly help you in dealing with your customers, and it might also be an idea to bring it up with your suppliers. After all, they should have warned you about this.

      “Digital rights management (DRM) is a generic term for access control technologies that can be used by hardware manufacturers, publishers, copyright holders and individuals to try to impose limitations on the usage of digital content and devices. ”

      Wikipedia definition of DRM

  5. dewapelangi said

    I agree with your opinion. Which company name to contaminated? everyone would want to walk right

  6. Lindsay said

    Psst. The Kindle user was a high school student, not a PHD student.

    I agree with so much of what you’ve said here. I understand that companies don’t want their name in the news associated with criminal activity, however assuming that everyone is a criminal is more than a little absurd.

    Also, I don’t think DRMs are that useful in the big picture, since those that want to get around them, will. Especially when it comes to breaking laws on large scales. People running black market rings for profit aren’t going to be put off by DRMs. Hell, even the smaller rings, like say those that ignore copyright and upload content to the internet, aren’t going to be put off by it, since they, too, will find a way around it.

    The people who are most put off by DRMs are those, like yourself, that just want to use a product for personal, and legal, uses.

    Something that scares me greatly is the discussion of anti-circumvention laws, where if you try to remove or circumvent a DRM you are breaking the law. Even if there is no legal reason for the DRM, or if the there is a legal reason that doesn’t apply.

    There are a lot of companies that put DRMs on their product to gain a competitive edge in the market, an example would be mobile service providers that put DRMs on phones stopping you from using you cell phone with a different provider (even though you purchased and own the cell phone).

    Or situations like your scanner from scanning money. Or even copying copyrighted material under fair dealing situations, such as a teacher copying something for educational purposes.

    So, in short, I feel that DRMs don’t stop crime, actively prevent legal activities and generally frustrate end users.

    • Thanks for the info. It’s good to know it wasn’t just an urban legend.

      When I was a kid if your appliance broke you got it fixed. DRM means you’re buying broken appliances and getting it repaired might send the repairman to jail.

      • Lindsay said

        Yeah, these things do kind of grow into urban legends, I know that when I first heard the story it was with a PHD student too. But since I have a habit of half remembering things, and so do the people around me, I’ve gotten into the habit of researching things before I type them, since text seems to last forever.

  7. Chargone said

    There may be other issues involved that still make it problematic, but last time i checked, DVD players in New Zealand and Australia were legally required to be able to play DVDs from all regions. (certainly they have no problem with region 1 DVDs)

    They also tend to be pretty cheap.

    So, unless doing so is illegal, one can bypass the region locking thing in DVDs without actually circumventing it. probably.

    That said: i make not claim to authority. do your own research before acting on anything i say 😀

    other fun DRM:

    Computer games that break your optical drive so that it cannot write to disks, just in case you copy the game. (never mind that the game comes on DVD and the drive is only capable of writing to CDs in the first place)

    the X-box 360 and it’s fuses. Apparently there to prevent you rolling back major updates to the system (which is bad enough in it’s own right given that such ‘updates’ aren’t always an improvement)by blowing one after the update is made, they can Also be remotely triggered simultaneously to ‘brick’ the console (that is, render it completely inoperative and probably irreparable). And what happens when they make more updates than there are fuses? well, you gotta go buy a new console, don’t you? assuming that happens before they release the next round of hardware, anyway.

    Really, it’s all very silly.

    • It’s too expensive for the consumer for me to consider it silly.

      DVD players are cheap here too, but they will only play region 1 movies. I haven’t tried making many home movies (too frustrating) but about only about 80% of the DVDs I burnt for family played in my machine. And sure DVDs are cheap but everyone I try to burn takes up my time too. Last year at Christmas only one copy (out of three) would play on my sister’s DVD.

      In the old days governments at least made an effort to protect consumers.

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