Piracy, Media, and Some Other Stuff You Might Want to Know: The use of Digital Rights Management

With all this digital media floating around it’s hard to know what’s safe and what isn’t these days. People continually put media online for others to have access to… perhaps too much access. Putting your thoughts and artistry online can be a risky business to the point where many just keep their media locked away hoping no one gains access to their information. But, did you ever stop to think that perhaps big name actors, musicians, directors, and other members of Hollywood and pop-culture would have the same fears and issues? There are many suggestions as to how to deal with such issues and fears concerning online media one of them is with Digital Rights Management (DRM). 

DRM is used to restrict access on software, music, movies, and various types of media as well as to protect digital intellectual property which encourages buying their product legitimately so as to make more profit. Because digital media is something that can be copied perfectly (compared to copying media off VHS or cassette tapes, where the quality of the media is diminished) DRM is considered especially needed. But does DRM really protect the product from piracy?

There are opposing organizations to the use of DRM such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) or the Free Software Foundation (FSF) who think that companies who use DRM are “trying to dumb down technology to serve their ‘bottom lines’ and manipulate copyright laws to tip the delicate balance toward intellectual property ownership and away from the right to think and speak freely” (https://www.eff.org/about). Many people even label DRM as “Digital Restrictions Management,” seeing as DRM is used to restrict, not free.

The EFF and FSF do, to some degree, seem too extreme, but their basis for opposing DRM is legitimate. Many of the products with DRM drive users away from buying the product, and instead pirating it because it is easier to download and hack rather than deal with the frustrations of navigating around DRM. This is especially seen in software such as computer games. Companies such as EA Games use a form of DRM which requires the player to connect to the internet in order to play the game, which causes problem after problem, headache after headache. The fact that even a single player game is connected to the internet means that if the server is down, all the players who payed legitimately cannot play, while those who pirated the game can continue playing, which has happened. Such restrictive DRM caused many people to pirate games instead, to save the frustration of dealing with DRM. Websites like Arstechnica talk about the recent problems with one of their newer games.

Piracy in music is also prominent, especially when there was DRM on legitimate music files to only be able to play on certain music players. People who buy music online typically want to put the music in multiple locations- to listen while they drive, while they exercise, while they are relaxing at home, while they use the computer, etc., so DRM restricting such uses drives people to pirate the music instead. Within the last few years some of the major online music distributers switched their music to be DRM-free, which actually increased sales rather than promote piracy. Any search on Google about this topic shows how online music distributers are promoting the change to DRM-free music.

Even without organizations against DRM, just the existence of DRM discourages customers from buying the product and dealing with DRM. Companies can only see loss in customers and profit if they use an overly restrictive DRM, but they still use it. Why?

What is your stance on the debate on DRM?


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