Bridging the Reality gap of the DRM market

See that photo of me over on the right? Guess what? I don’t look like that! I swear I don’t.

I hate that picture. It makes me look bloated and far too damn happy, which is all wrong. The gap between reality (my photo) and the reality I want (a new, better photo) is what matters, and the important thing is that this gap only matters if you care about it. When you do, well, you’ll do anything to close the gap.

Consider Macrovision, a major purveyor of digital rights management (DRM) systems. As you know, the main driving force that created the DRM market was the music industry. Once the digital genie was out of the bottle, and the music industry realized piracy was rampant, it moved to try to lock down content so it could regain control of how content was used.

Locking down music was where DRM first raised its unattractive head, and the watershed event that definitively demonstrated that DRM technologies are naive and ineffective was the Sony rootkit fiasco.

As I have argued here and elsewhere over and over again: Any software-based system for content protection can be broken, because, for the content to be useful at some point it has to be decoded, which makes the protection mechanism and the content vulnerable.

A recent open letter from Apple CEO Steve Jobs titled “Thoughts on Music” agrees with my point of view: “…a DRM system employs secrets. There is no theory of protecting content other than keeping secrets…. The problem, of course, is that there are many smart people in the world, some with a lot of time on their hands, who love to discover such secrets and publish a way for everyone to get free (and stolen) music. They are often successful in doing just that, so any company trying to protect content using a DRM must frequently update it with new and harder to discover secrets. It is a cat-and-mouse game.”

So, DRM has quite rightly got a bad rap for not being able to do what it is supposed to do (the reality) and in response, Macrovision recently argued that DRM is a good thing (the reality it would like).

Macrovision posted a letter on its Web site from CEO and president, Fred Amoroso, addressed to Jobs and the Digital Entertainment Industry.

The letter said, “I would like to start by thanking Steve Jobs for offering his provocative perspective on the role of digital rights management in the electronic content marketplace.” That’s shorthand for: “You bastard, you told the truth!”

Amoroso argues that DRM is “an important enabler across all content, including movies, games and software, as well as music,” but he doesn’t explain what he means by enabler.

He then argues that “DRM increases not decreases consumer value [because]…without a reasonable, consistent and transparent DRM we will only delay consumers in receiving premium content in the home, in the way they want it…consumers who want to consume content on only a single device can pay less than those who want to use it across all of their entertainment areas — vacation homes, cars, different devices and remotely.”

In other words, DRM could make sure that a separate licence would be required for each device the content could be used on. Do you really think that will be less expensive than, say, the cost of a CD today? How can this in any conceivable way increase consumer value?

Amoroso contends that “DRM needs to be interoperable and open.” This last point sounds good, but Jobs very succinctly explained why open DRM can’t work: “…licensing a DRM involves disclosing some of its secrets to many people in many companies, and history tells us that inevitably these secrets will leak.”

Essentially the Macrovision letter uses unfounded arguments to support an untenable position. It is an unsuccessful attempt at damage control for a reality Macrovision doesn’t like and a manipulative attempt to engineer the reality the company wants to exist.

QuickLink: 073343

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