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Monday, February 19, 2007

DRM Tipping Points 

Item: a guy who manages content for a living writes something like this. And he pretty much has to, since to say otherwise and be even half as techno-savvy as he is (and that poor slob doesn't even have an N93) would be to be regarded as having been bought, or retarded, or both.

Things of note:
-My digital satellite box's DVI output will not talk to my TV's DVI input because the TV part isn't HDCP compliant.
-At work, we're currently fighting through the amusing fiasco of providing a Region 2 DVD player so that a language instructor can play some foreign-language DVDs. Because of some specific college mandates, we can't bring in anything without a CSA sticker. That means I have to either hack up something computer-wise, probably using scavenged firmware and VLC, or I have to find some deregionalized player (probably something cheap and stupid) so we can play legally-owned DVDs.
-My laptop died. Until I brought it back from the dead, I basically couldn't sync TLO's iPod for fear of screwing up the music library. That's probably only half of a DRM issue.

This is just some random encounters I've had with some form of DRM or another. Note that in each case, the content has tried to manage me in some way that seems dubious, prevents a non-infringing use of a legal device, and mostly just makes my life stupider and more annoying.

The first thing has led me through an on-again off-again quest for an HDCP stripper. They seem to be kinda-sorta available for a couple hundred bucks sometimes. The second thing has cost a co-worker a few hours of pain and figuring, and looks to cost me some more yet. We'll have more problem-solving labour into this trouble than the DVD playback device will likely be worth. The third thing, well, I'm mostly just pissed off that my laptop doesn't have a screen anymore, and that I can't easily dump music that I own to backups. Because I have a fair number of silver discs with scratches on them.

I don't think my insight here is unique, but I do notice that what all these DRM experiences have taught me is one thing: DRM hacking is good.

I'm not sure this is the lesson that the DRMers of the world meant for me to learn. I'm pretty sure the DRM concept has rarely been thought out by implementors much beyond the "if we could make people pay for each copy, that would be more money" level, and sometimes not even that. But here I am, routinely searching out fixes in my life for stuff that would work fine except for needing workarounds to made-up problems.

I face quite enough actual, authentic, real-live technical problems in both my home and work life to not need the fake ones. But if I have to, I will work around the fake ones too. And every time I do, I get a bit of misplaced vengefulness directed towards the people who made working with technology stupider.

Was it the plan of DRM creators to induce in me hatred for creative types? Or is that just a side-effect?

The point here isn't even that DRM makes my life especially bad. It ranks rather below Hunger in Africa or God's Will or My Car's Water Pump Impeller Broke in the list of things I worry about. But I cannot conceive of it for even a moment without thinking badly of DRM, and of any "protected" content.

DRM schemes are a non-trivial part of why I have little interest in HD-DVD/Blu-Ray formats right now. If you promise me that in the future, whenever the hell you feel like it, you might just make it impossible to use your stupid protected content on my retro component-inputs-only TV, I'll take the hint and avoid buying trouble.

Was convincing people like me to not buy content the plan?

Comments:
Regarding the DVD region codes, at least, consider checking videohelp.com for hacks for legit and non-cheap, non-stupid DVD players.
 
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