DRM: Is it good or evil?
Recent hype about DRM
Recently, in Brussels an unusual committee session was held. JPEG committee discussed, whether DRM (Digital Rights Management) protection should be added to digital images. In case of the DRM approval (luckily, this proposal was refused), it may happen that you won’t be longer able to set your favorite album cover picture as a wallpaper, because it may be DRM protected.
It reminds the situation with the banknotes. If you try to scan euros or dollars, the software of your scanner will recognize that it is a banknote and refuse to scan it <LINK>. Imagine what will be the consequences once DRM-protected pictures become widespread.
Defective by design
The dissatisfaction with DRM can be traced back even 10 years ago. For example, Free Software Foundation, NGO supporting the spur of free software, organized an initiative against DRM called “Defective by design” in 2006. The name of the initiative reflected the view at DRM.
Why do they think that DRM is so inefficient? The most common arguments are:
- What is the sense of punishing those who has already bought content? As only legal content can be DRM protected, this way the companies impose restrictions on those who really bought it.
- DRM locks in users on a particular platform. You may for example no longer be copy your e-book on your new device, if the previous device brand doesn’t match that of new.
- Locking in of users on one platform causes monopolization. Once switch costs from on platform to another got so high, you will no longer be able to negotiate price to the extent you could. It is applicable both for users and independent publishers.
- DRM software may cause lags. DRM-protected software works smoothly in most use cases, however, when you try to do something unusual as text-to-speech, the system will freeze.
Is DRM good for companies?
Tom Refenes, Super Meat Boy developer, claims that DRM causes more harm on a firm profitability than piracy does. He states that in the current market conditions there is no way to fight piracy. It simply exists and you cannot do anything with it.
Let’s take an example. You bought “Fifty shades of gray” for Amazon Kindle and it happened to be DRM-enabled. Let us assume, you Kindle broke, but you still have your old Pocketbook e-reader. You try to copy it over there and read, but you cannot. DRM-protection of Amazon allows you to read only on the devices operated by the major operation systems, which is not the case of Pocketbook.
I have to underline, you are the one who legally bought the content. Will you be stressed in this situation? Will you buy DRM-protected content again, when you can download almost any book in few clicks for free illegally?
Therefore, companies risk to lose their sales from those customers who willingly paid in the past.
Bearing in mind, that piracy is really hard to beat today and DRM adds additional pressure on the users who are already paying decreasing their willingness to pay, it is rather evil than good.