Mad, Beautiful Ideas
DRM is Not a Requirement of the Future

Jeff Atwood posts today about how not considering DRM cost him $140, since Microsoft provided no reasonable way for him to transfer stuff he’d bought at his work’s XBox 360 to his new home XBox 360. By the end of the article, he chocks it up as a learning experience because he didn’t properly consider the DRM when he’d purchased that stuff originally on a shared system. I would argue, however, that his mistake was not buying the material at work without realizing he’d have to buy it again at home, but rather, buying the material at all.

Atwood points out a post by blogger PerfectCr regarding XBox Live and DRM, in which PerfectCr comments that “Microsoft has every right to protect their content.” There is some truth to that, Microsoft does need to take steps to prevent piracy, and of the DRM-schemes out there, XBox Live has some things going for it. The content can be downloaded and used on a temporary basis on any other XBox, as long as the Live account which purchased it is the one in use. Not a bad set-up, but apparently, it’s nearly impossible to get your XBox Live account transferred to a new XBox if your old one dies. The Nintendo Wii uses some DRM for the Virtual Console (though it sounds like it may not be that complex, actually), but Nintendo will at least facilitate the transfer of VC purchases from one Wii to another (if you ship into their support) better than Microsoft, at least based on PerfectCr’s post.

Now, I’m not completely innocent here. I’ve bought several games on the Wii’s Virtual Console. When I did that, I understood that the titles were tied to my Wii, and that I while I could back them up to an SD card, they wouldn’t work elsewhere. I guess this is part of what makes people so much more annoyed with XBox Live than the Wii, is that XBox Live, by allowing the temporary transfer of rights, sets up a false expectation that the transfer of this data shouldn’t be that difficult. I’ve always hated DRM, and have long stood behind folks like the Defective By Design Team. I work hard not to support DRM wherever I can. I only buy e-books from retailers who don’t use DRM, like Steve Jackson Games’ e23. I only buy digital music from companies like Magnatune, which are DRM-free, and come in FLAC.

DRM adds so little to digital media, but it takes so much away. The only reason that I tolerate DRM in the Virtual Console is because I am buying those games specifically to play on my Wii. I have no misconceptions about what they mean, and I’m more willing to put trust in Nintendo over this. It may not make sense, but there it is, and it’s the only place that I’m currently tolerating DRM today.

Atwood is clearly of the opinion that DRM is going to be an inevitable fact of life, and that we as consumers had better just get used to being limited in how and where we use our media. A lot of people seem to.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Already, the music industry is shifting slowly away from DRM. Amazon has a DRM-Free music store that has most of the major labels signed up (unfortunately it distributed MP3 only), and iTunes has been shifting the same way, reducing the cost of it’s DRM-Free music to the same as it’s DRM laden stuff. As we start moving toward the distribution of downloadable video (unless the bandwidth providers kill it, of course), I think we’ll start seeing DRM becoming less common in that arena as well. Okay, so digital-rentals will always require some form of DRM, but if I choose to buy a digital movie or TV show, there is no reason that should require debilitating technology.

The fact is that if Consumers stand up and refuse to be victimized by the media outlets, and refuse to be told what they can do, when, and how, with the media they’ve rightly purchased, then the media conglomerates would be forced to change their stance on the issue, and forced to stop treating all their customers like criminals, because a small percentage will be. The people who are really intent of pirating whatever it is you’re trying to protect, will find a way anyhow.