June 07, 2007

What is the DRM problem?

A Digital Rights Management system is a system to manage digital rights. But, if you read some news blogs, you get the impression that Apple has stopped managing the digital rights of its music sales (a.k.a. iTunes). E.g., 1, 2, 3.

No such. Managing digital rights can be done by putting an email address into a song. There is nothing in the business requirements of DRM that says it can't be broken, unless it was put there by an over-zealous cryptographer who has never owned a compact cassette recorder.

Breaking DRM is not what it is about. DRM is about creating a system to distribute the content to those who will pay, and make it hard for those who pay to avoid the system.

Note that this is not the same as stopping the distribution of content to those who won't pay. We don't care about them, as they won't pay. What we do care about is whether those that won't pay (a) get access to the content and (b) make it easy for those who will pay to get access to it. It's that second part that is the important part.

In all the history of MP3s, and indeed content of all forms, we have (a) in dumper-loads, and little or none of (b). Apple have come closest as a commercial enterprise, but they are still a long way from (b). If you think that this is wrong, help me (please!) with this little test: Tell me where the button is on my iTunes to get access to the paid content, unpaid?

Why is this so? It's simple to write but harder to grasp: it is because marketing is driven by marketing laws, and in this case, an economic law known as "discrimination." The DRM problem is to create a discrimination between those that will pay and those that will not. Sticking an email address in a song sounds like a way to do that, presuming that other things are going on too.

Posted by iang at June 7, 2007 11:33 AM | TrackBack

DRM isnt a factor in the discrimination, it's by Apple's choice you dont have easy access to their entire catalogue as a non-paying customer. Their not providing you with the ability to sign up for a free account or something similar has nothing to do with DRM. The iTunes program is causing the discrimination.

Apple seems like a bad choice to make any point about DRM anyway, as theyve used it for vendor lock-in more then anything else. The only thing apple's fairplay has been protecting is their own wallet, not that of the music industry. Which to me seems like DRM's biggest hurdle.

Posted by: Silby at June 12, 2007 06:54 AM
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