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DRM, the IFPI and You
February 3, 2006
Thomas Mennecke
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DRM, or Digital Rights Management, is a blanket term used by content owners to protect digital media. It takes various forms and can be as simplistic as CSS (Content Scrabling System) or as complex as First4Internet’s XCP (Extended Copy Protection) technology. While DRM technology has never been appreciated by knowledgeable consumers, relations between this technology and the public reached an all time low with the revelation of Sony-BMG’s rootkit fiasco.

Sony-BMG’s rootkit technology earned DRM tremendously negative publicicity. The technology proved difficult to remove and even worse, posed a security risk to the consumer. Because a rootkit by its very nature is difficult to detect, even to anti spyware and virus software, a malicious individual could design a virus that mimics XCP’s signature. Since protection software skips right over the rootkit files and folders, the virus could go completely undetected and commit untold damage.

The situation has not improved much for Sony-BMG, as it was later discovered that SunnComm’s MediaMax technology also posed a considerable security risk. Fallout from the XCP nightmare prompted the EFF to pressure SunnComm to into providing adequate removal software. However it was soon learned this approach presented its own set of problems, as a malicious individual could set a ‘booby trap’ upon MediaMax’s removal. The situation was compounded by the fact that MediaMax installed itself regardless of whether the end user declined its installation.

The amount of negative press surrounding these events was substantial. Virtually every technology resource such as CNet, Wired, and BetaNews covered these developments including more mainstream sources like the Washington Post and the BBC. Those who never understood or knew what DRM is suddenly found themselves educated - and furious. This presented a serious danger to the music industry who continues to struggle against the online proliferation of digital media and the continuous defeat of their copy protection technology.

In an effort to counter the growing public tide against DRM, the IFPI has published a feel good article on the complexities and virtues of this technology. Written by Dr. Richard Gooch, the IFPI’s Deputy Director of Technology, the global trade organization appeals to music fans why DRM is an important aspect of online distribution. The appeal starts off by congratulating the IFPI’s largely discredited 2006 Digital Music report, and continues by diving right into the public’s hatred of DRM.

“Something crucial is underpinning this wave of activity. It has an unlovable title, and an even more unlovable acronym; Digital Rights Management (DRM). Getting it to work in the marketplace is probably the most pressing issue today in the development of today's flourishing digital music business.”

Certainly getting DRM to work in today’s marketplace has been a challenge, especially when established computer security firms such as Computer Associates labels their technology a viral threat. It becomes even more difficult when the EFF and the Attorney General of the State of Texas file a class action lawsuit for distributing such technology and posing security risks to millions of consumers.

But let’s stick with the bottom line, shall we?

“It is DRM that gives consumers different options and helps different kinds of services compete. Look at the differences between the services on offer today. The biggest - like iTunes - are taking digital music to the mainstream, but there are hundreds of smaller services too. Some are deliberately small and cater to a niche audience. Some are small because they are just starting out. Mobile is huge with ringtones but mobile music and video is just starting out. This diversity is great for the market and for consumers.”

Truth be told, DRM does give consumers many different options – such as the option “install our DRM software or don’t listen to our music.” In addition, you have the option of burning your purchased tracks not only once, but twice. In some circumstances, you can even burn tracks three or four times. If one is lucky enough to have purchased Ricky Martin’s latest thrill ride CD, you even have the option of installing XCP’s trojan software. Indeed, DRM is opening the doors for music fans around the world.

The rest of IFPI’s argument relies on the notion that DRM has made the authorized digital market place viable. There is substantial evidence this is not the case. The only driving force making the authorized digital market place viable is iTunes. It commands this market with an 83% share. The IFPI should be thanking Steve Jobs and his strategy of coordinating the seamless integration of the iPod and iTunes, not placing DRM on a false pedestal.

This story is filed in these Slyck News categories
File-Sharing/P2P Related :: DRM
Entertainment Industry :: IFPI

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