Klaus Zimmermann's Corner

Buy DRM or just pirate?

xkcd #488 answers it best:

Piracy or DRM? An infographic by xkcd

There is nothing wrong with making money, or operating a business. But when doing so costs your individual freedom, we have a problem.

There are lots of reasons why DRM is insecure, and bad for the internet and society in general, but the most pernicious part is this: it doesn't work. I like this explanation by Cory Doctorow:

Say I sell you an encrypted DVD: the encryption on the DVD is supposed to stop you (the DVD’s owner) from copying it. In order to do that, it tries to stop you from decrypting the DVD.

Except it has to let you decrypt the DVD some of the time. If you can’t decrypt the DVD, you can’t watch it. If you can’t watch it, you won’t buy it. So your DVD player is entrusted with the keys necessary to decrypt the DVD, and the film’s creator must trust that your DVD player is so well-designed that no one will ever be able to work out the key.

How do you expect someone to not figure out your secret key that protects your content when you must give this key (somewhat obfuscated) to them in order to allow them to view it? You want to keep pirates out and serve your customers? Guess what: your customers are the ones pirating it out!

There are those who think that this is not a big deal because it only deals with something non-critical like entertainment. This would be a fair argument back in 2005 or something. In the mid-2010s, however, the greed permeated by DRM grew considerably, to the point of crossing out of the digital into real life.

Farmers who purchased new John Deere Tractors cannot use them fully unless they pay a service fee to unlock them. Textbooks required by College classes have found themselves online, but locked behind an approved reading platform, which would never have happened with a physical book. Doesn't seem like such an inoffensive problem anymore, does it?

This brings the xkcd comic's last lines in more relevance than ever nowadays. It's not anymore a matter of entertainment or music - rather, DRM allows companies and overpowered individuals to creep further into your freedoms day by day. What are you going to do about it?

Last updated on 09/22/20