I will not be having a Star Wars day today on May the Fourth and it’s thanks to Digital Restrictions Management (DRM). For people who wonder why I often blog about DRM – this is why we need to fight it. I bought LEGO Star Wars five or more years ago. It was OK, but I needed someone else to play with me because the game is pretty crap with just one player. So I couldn’t wait until I could share the game with one of my children. Scarlett saw a LEGO computer game on Youtube and wanted to play. PERFECT! I went to load it and, because Microsoft no longer supports SecuROM, I can no longer play this game that I paid money for! This is why I only buy books without DRM; why I only buy movies on BluRay, not Amazon – because the DRM is trivially removed. And now I buy games on GOG whenever possible because they sell games without DRM. Don’t flush your money in the toilet! Buy DRM-free!
The most important paragraph in Corey Doctorow’s essay:
No, the worst part is that, like the lady who had to swallow the bird to catch the spider that she’d swallowed to catch the fly, any technical system that stops you from being the master of your computer must be accompanied by laws that criminalize information about its weaknesses. In the age of Google, it simply won’t do to have “uninstall HAL9000.exe” return a list of videos explaining how to jailbreak your gadgets, just as videos that explain how to jailbreak your iPhone today could technically be illegal; making and posting them could potentially put their producers (and the sites that host them) at risk of prosecution.
This amounts to a criminal sanction for telling people about vulnerabilities in their own computers. And because today your computer lives in your pocket and has a camera and a microphone and knows all the places you go; and because tomorrow that speeding car/computer probably won’t even sport a handbrake, let alone a steering wheel—the need to know about any mode that could be exploited by malicious hackers will only get more urgent. There can be no “lawful interception” capacity for a self-driving car, allowing police to order it to pull over, that wouldn’t also let a carjacker compromise your car and drive it to a convenient place to rob, rape, and/or kill you.
I know I’m late to the game on this, but hurrah to JK Rowling for making the Harry Potter ebooks DRM-free! Just because of that, I’ll be sure to buy it this summer! Before I was scared about DRM-issues. I’ve been burned before – I have a bunch of Microsoft LIT books that I legally bought and can no longer read.
It is a fact of life that things will be bootlegged. (commonly called pirated, but this is one area where I strongly agree with rms. Piracy is a horrible thing where people get kidnapped on the ocean and die. I have in-law relatives who have died from pirates. So I don’t find it cute to compare that with people who acquire things without paying for them) We usually think of digital items, but go to Chinatown in New York and you’ll see the same thing going on with physical objects. So what’s a company to do? My least favorite route is digital restrictions management (DRM) because it just makes things a real pain in the butt for legitimate users. (It also makes criminals of people who just want to rip their DVDs and BluRays to their laptops or media centers) My favorite tactic (which works best with games, but I’ve seen it with music and movies), is to mess with the person who didn’t pay for it. I’ve seen games that are extremely mean about it (mean being in the eye of the beholder since these people didn’t pay for the game) where they make it so that the final bad guy is unbeatable (after all those hours!). Others glitch out halfway through. Game Dev Tycoon developer Greenheart Games was able to use the subject of their game (in which you’re a game developer – META!) to come up with a unique solution. On the same day the game came out, they started a torrent with a slightly modified version of the game. It works just like the paid version for a while. Then you get this message from your developers:
That says:”Boss, it seems that while many players play our new game, they steal it by downloading a cracked version rather than buying it legally. If players don’t buy the games they like, we will sooner or later go bankrupt.” Of course, whenever developers make glitched up illicit versions of their games, the developers have a good time laughing at the complaints in the forums that only they know tip them off that the posters are running illicit software. But, this was even better because you can always count on the Internet to fail when it comes to irony. Here are quotes from their forums:
Guys I reached some point where if I make a decent game with score 9-10 it gets pirated and I can’t make any profit. It barely sells 100k units…I am during the Xbox 1 and the PS2 gen. Back in the 80s and 90s I could easily make a 1m sales with a 9-10 game but now its not possible due to the piracy. It says bla bla our game got pirated stuff like that. Is there some way to avoid that? I mean can I research a DRM or something…
So far I am going no where. My profit is little to none. If I make an average game 5-7 I get some cash which is understandable but then if I make an 9-10 game I earn the same cash because I get the message for the piracy…
For the past 6-7 games I ended up with the same amount of money or a few grand less.
So what I have to do now? There’s no point in inventing a new engine because the revolutionary game made out of it will get pirated and I will not be able to cover my expenses.
What are there so many people that pirate? It ruins me! I had like 5m and then people suddenly started pirating everything I made, even if I got really good ratings (that I usually get) Not fair.
Remember, these complaints are coming from people who didn’t pay for the game themselves.The developers have a great blog post about this process and how they believe if things don’t change we’re just going to get more and more crappy online games. It’s a good read. I don’t know what’s going to happen to Greenheart Studios, but I do applaud them for taking this method of dealing with illicit users. I enjoy not having to worry about DRM or how many computers I can install the game on.
Ars, whose gaming articles I usually enjoy, ran a weird followup article entitled Piracy or baiting? In it they considered whether Greenheart Games could go after the illicit users or if the fact they put it onto Bittorrent themselves meant it was meant to be obtained that way. I doubt that could be true, because the entire music industry standard around 2005 was seeding the P2P networks with messed up MP3s. I don’t think anyone could have argued it was, therefore, ok to be trying to obtain those files. Either way, it gets beside the point (which Ars itself pointed out early in the article) that these guys are trying to play games without compensating the two-man team that worked on it. It’s not any less illegal to do it from big companies, but they’ve already built that into the price. You’re disproportionately hurting small developers when you play their games without paying.
I’d prefer for more and more developers to take to this tactic rather than DRM so I always get excited when I hear these kinds of stories.
I write this to you because you are the largest and most powerful companies in your ecosystems. The digital world has become ridiculous and you need to be leaders in rectifying the situation. Let’s start with Amazon. The two biggest digital things you sell are books and music. Back in the analog world before commerce became a Wonderland distortion, if I bought a book or CD, any member in my household could access this item. It didn’t matter if I bought the book or my wife bought the book. We could both read it. The same went with a CD. Either of us could grab the CD off the shelf and put it into our portable CD player. But now go to the Kindle (or any other e-reader system) and Amazon CloudPlayer. Sure, either of us could pick up the e-reader to read a book. But what if we both want to read a different book at the same time. How can we access each other’s libraries? What about if we each want to listen to the same music library from Amazon CloudPlayer on our smart phones or other devices? For various reasons, like Amazon recommendations, it makes sense for us to have different accounts instead of a family account.
Valve, back in the PC disc days we’d install our games on all of our computers. Maybe that was technically against the license, but it certainly made more sense than having to swap computers when we wanted to play different games. I understand not allowing us to both play the same game at the same time with just one license. While people used to do that, I understand that fair is fair. You can’t read the same book at the same time (comfortably, anyway), so if you both want to play the same game at the same time you need two licenses. But what doesn’t make sense is that (at least the last time I tried this) I can’t be signed into Steam on two computers at once. So if I want to play Portal while my wife plays Peggle, I can’t. That doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. I shouldn’t have to buy two copies of it so that she can play that game while I play another.
So here’s my proposal: linking of family resources. In other words, just like the AOL accounts of old, someone chooses to be the Head of the Household. Everyone else can link to that account and all their purchases pool. This way they don’t need to share passwords, etc in case there are breakups, divorces, etc. In those cases, everyone keeps whatever they bought with their account. Also, it allows everyone to have their own stats tracking instead of Amazon recommending girly things to me or my wife getting my Steam achievements. Pubilshers will push back and say that people will claim to have 100-member families or something. You, Amazon and Valve, are large enough to push back with rationality! Clearly you will only allow a reasonable amount of people to link accounts. You could set it to a reasonable number like 5. If someone has a larger family, they could apply for a larger account and certify under penalty of the law, or whatever makes the lawyers happy, that this person is a member of their family.
I need you guys to lead the charge because things are getting ridiculous. And it’s only going to get worse as more and more goods are digitized. Help bring some rationality to commerce. And if there’s already a way to do this that I missed, that’s great! Someone point me to how to do that in the comments.
Until now I’ve been quite against ebooks. Back when I was in college I had an iPaq and I downloaded the Microsoft reader to it. I bought about 3 – 5 books for it and, at first, I thought it was great. It would allow you to annotate the book and highlight passages. And it was electronic so I could carry a bunch of books in the space of my PDA. But it was one of the first times I was bitten by digital restrictions management (DRM). I had to reset my PDA because it got into a locked state. After that, I couldn’t read my books until I reauthenticated the PDA. After all, everyone out there is out to destroy authors and steal digital books, so they need to make sure I’m the one who paid for it. This worked the first time around, but the second time I needed to authenticate, the server refused to authenticate the device and I could no longer read the books. So I was out around $20. Imagine buying a regular physical book and then having it no longer work because it wasn’t sure if you were the person who bought it. Yeah, it’s pretty ridiculous.
For the most part, back then we were limited to reading digital books on PDAs or the odd book reading device that only read its own obscure format. And when that company realized that no one wanted to read digital books, you would be stuck with a bunch of locked up files that would only work until your device died. (Maybe less time if it had to regularly phone in) And I disliked reading on the computer because I like to read in bed or while traveling.
A few years ago the Amazon Kindle came out. They licensed the eInk technology that Neal Stephenson had forseen in The Diamond Age and which made it just as easy to read a book on the Kindle as reading a physical book. Three things kept me from buying one. First was the fact that this device, too, used DRM to restrict access to the files. Second, the price was that of a more capable laptop. Third, I couldn’t share books with others. Many of the authors whose new books I buy without reading any reviews are authors I discovered by borrowing a book from a friend or a library. Sharing books is a huge part of our shared American culture. The ability to get a skeptical person to read a new author by allowing them to read your copy for free is a basic idea in the US. Yet publishers are too afraid to allow this to take place. More people need to be like Eric Flint, originator of the Baen Free Library (and an author himself). Here’s a bit of what he writes there:
1. Online piracy — while it is definitely illegal and immoral — is, as a practical problem, nothing more than (at most) a nuisance. We’re talking brats stealing chewing gum, here, not the Barbary Pirates.
2. Losses any author suffers from piracy are almost certainly offset by the additional publicity which, in practice, any kind of free copies of a book usually engender. Whatever the moral difference, which certainly exists, the practical effect of online piracy is no different from that of any existing method by which readers may obtain books for free or at reduced cost: public libraries, friends borrowing and loaning each other books, used book stores, promotional copies, etc.
After all, Dave Weber’s On Basilisk Station has been available for free as a “loss leader” for Baen’s for-pay experiment “Webscriptions” for months now. And — hey, whaddaya know? — over that time it’s become Baen’s most popular backlist title in paper!
And so I volunteered my first novel, Mother of Demons, to prove the case. And the next day Mother of Demons went up online, offered to the public for free.
Sure enough, within a day, I received at least half a dozen messages (some posted in public forums, others by private email) from people who told me that, based on hearing about the episode and checking out Mother of Demons, they either had or intended to buy the book. In one or two cases, this was a “gesture of solidarity. “But in most instances, it was because people preferred to read something they liked in a print version and weren’t worried about the small cost — once they saw, through sampling it online, that it was a novel they enjoyed. (Mother of Demons is a $5.99 paperback, available in most bookstores. Yes, that a plug. )
Take, for instance, the phenomenon of people lending books to their friends — a phenomenon which absolutely dwarfs, by several orders of magnitude, online piracy of copyrighted books.
What’s happened here? Has the author “lost a sale?”
Well. . . yeah, in the short run — assuming, of course, that said person would have bought the book if he couldn’t borrow it. Sure. Instead of buying a copy of the author’s book, the Wretched Scoundrel Borrower (with the Lender as his Accomplice) has “cheated” the author. Read his work for free! Without paying for it!
The same thing happens when someone checks a book out of a public library — a “transaction” which, again, dwarfs by several orders of magnitude all forms of online piracy. The author only collects royalties once, when the library purchases a copy. Thereafter. . .
Robbed again! And again, and again!
Yet. . . yet. . .
I don’t know any author, other than a few who are — to speak bluntly — cretins, who hears about people lending his or her books to their friends, or checking them out of a library, with anything other than pleasure. Because they understand full well that, in the long run, what maintains and (especially) expands a writer’s audience base is that mysterious magic we call: word of mouth.
Word of mouth, unlike paid advertising, comes free to the author — and it’s ten times more effective than any kind of paid advertising, because it’s the one form of promotion which people usually trust.
That being so, an author can hardly complain — since the author paid nothing for it either. And it is that word of mouth, percolating through the reading public down a million little channels, which is what really puts the food on an author’s table. Don’t let anyone ever tell you otherwise.
Think about it. How many people lend a book to a friend with the words: “You ought a read this! It’s really terrible!”
How many people who read a book they like which they obtained from a public library never mention it to anyone? As a rule, in my experience, people who frequently borrow books from libraries are bibliophiles. And bibliophiles, in my experience, usually can’t refrain from talking about books they like.
And, just as important — perhaps most important of all — free books are the way an audience is built in the first place. How many people who are low on cash and for that reason depend on libraries or personal loans later rise on the economic ladder and then buy books by the very authors they came to love when they were borrowing books?
So recently I heard about the Barnes and Noble Nook. Unlike the Kindle, you can share books (although it’s up to the publisher to allow this) and unlike the Kindle you can use the open format EPUB. Now we’re talking. And it’s getting to be within a price range that I might be willing to shell out. So am I about to just start buying ebooks? Well, not quite yet.
First of all, even with the Barnes and Noble Nook, the files are still locked with DRM. Publishers (like the music industry before them) continue to view their readers as adversaries rather than as their clients. They have not taken the lesson from the music industry that legal MP3 sales sky-rocketed once DRM-free tracks were available. Now I don’t know anyone who illicitly obtains music. Before everyone I knew did. And nearly everyone I know illicitly obtains movies because there aren’t DRM-free versions available and I figure the same will happen with books. A quick search online shows that hackers and crackers have already figured out how to break the DRM on Sony and Amazon books. This means that, just as the music industry was doing before, you’re punishing the honest guys while those who would have obtained a copy without paying will still do so. And I refuse to be left holding the bag again with a bunch of books I paid money for and can’t read. I LOVE to support my favorite authors. I WILL pay for books – electronic or otherwise. But I will not be made the fool again.
Second, there’s the matter of Amazon having a little too much power over the Kindle (and perhaps other book reader manufacturers wielding the same power when they also control the store you buy from). You may have seen in the news last year that they removed a book (1984, ironically) from people’s Kindles. That’s right, if the company doesn’t like it (or maybe the government in a country like Iran or China), your books can be remotely removed from your device. This is one of those times where you may be better off with a third party reader like this Viewsonic reader (linke to B&H) where their loyalties are more to you than to a publisher.
Third is the matter of convenience. Books can be read anywhere and anytime. Electronic devices have to be shut off at certain times on airplanes and cannot be brought into some work places. A book can be thrown around casually, but an electronic device cannot. A paperback can be pocket-sized and light – many readers are not.
To see if I can get into electronic books, I have downloaded some books from Cory Doctorow. He provides his books under a creative commons license which allows people to convert his book into every ebook format possible. I also have the Gutenberg project which contains all the classic books for free! I chose to get them on EPUB since it appears to be the book version of the Open Document Format (ODF) that I use with OpenOffice.org. If there’s a compelling reason to use another file format, let me know and I’ll consider it.
I’m at a bit of a disadvantage in that I do not own a book reader or a smart phone. I have my computer and my laptop. But the laptop could have been very useful on a recent train ride. And it can be useful at the airport when there’s power available (my battery doesn’t last long these days). I can even use it in bed – even though it is a bit cumbersome and hot. I installed dropbox on my laptop and main computer so I can keep my library in sync. It won’t be ideal, but it will give me somewhat of a feel for things. I’m using FBReader as it works on Linux and appears to support nearly every format. Who knows, if I can find myself enjoying this non-ideal way to read ebooks, it may inspire me to invest in an ebook reader. All I need now is the reader revolution demanding DRM-free books as they did with MP3s. Make your voices heard!
My father-in-law is over today and he’s been dying to watch the Bizarre Foods Paris episode. I’m opposed to buying video media off of iTunes because of the digital restrictions management (DRM). But, he’s been wanting to watch that episode forever and we no longer have cable so I can’t record it onto MythTV. We bought it off of iTunes and then tried to watch it in iTunes. It was skipping and stuttering worse than a Youtube video. It was reminding me of the old dialup days when the buffer would keep running out. Any TV show I have ever downloaded for free off the net has not had this problem – it has played flawlessly – even if it was an HD recording. So why should I pay $2 for a stuttering video when I could get it for free and have HD quality?? And I’m not the only one – I searched the web and 3 million pages came up on this issue. The solution was to play it in Quicktime, outside of iTunes. This is ridiculous – pay content should NEVER be worse quality than free content if you want people to pay. That is, after all, how the free market works.
As I mentioned here, Micro$oft has provided yet another example of why digital restrictions management does nothing but hurt legitimate consumers. To remind you, this is when Microsoft turned off the servers for its ironically named “playsforsure” DRM system. These songs, which consumers would told, would play for sure on any digital media player containing the proper logo, will no longer play once August comes around and Microsoft turns off the servers which validate you as a non-criminal. I hope there’s a huge outcry that forces them to un-DRM all these songs and sounds the ultimate death knell for DRM.
Mark Pilmgim, Python hacker and author, wrote a piece about this in his blog in which he explains the situation to his father. Here are my favorite quotes.
Bruce Schneier, a famous cryptologist — or at least as famous a cryptologist as cryptologists are likely to get in this century — once described attempts to make digital bits uncopyable as “trying to make water not wet.”
To their credit, if that’s the right word, you can now purchase some music from the iTunes store that is unencrypted and plays anywhere. Apple calls these songs “iTunes Plus”, because it sounds so much better than calling everything else “iTunes Minus.”
To demonstrate the awesomeness of their developer platform, Microsoft opened their own online store, MSN Music, so they could compete directly with their business partners who also offered “PlaysForSure”-compatible music downloads. Because there’s nothing end users love more than fake choices.
At that point — transferring the music files they have “purchased” to another drive or a new computer — the Microsoft music player running on the victim’s PC (like iTunes, but all Microsoft-y instead of Apple-y) will make a call to Microsoft’s validation servers to verify that the music files were legitimately purchased. This call will fail, since the servers are not responding, since Microsoft has intentionally turned them off. The Microsoft music player will then conclude, incorrectly but steadfastly, that the music files were downloaded illegally and that the victim is a filthy pirate, and it will refuse to play them. In this case, the left hand knows exactly what the right hand is doing: they’re both giving you the finger.
Also, he mention that the Electronic Frontier Foundation, of which I’m a member, has posted a letter to Microsoft calling them on this move.
The Free Software Foundation’s Defective by Design is reporting that MSN Music is shutting down, leaving anyone who bought music legally left with music they can no longer listen to. This will have two outcomes and neither of which is what the music labels really want. Some people will decide they got left holding the bomb with one second left for doing the right thing and paying for music. They will decide to download music without paying from now on. They will reason that if they ever buy music again they won’t know if it will cease working. Or they will being to take note of places like Amie Street and Amazon.com that sell DRM-free music.
Tsk, Tsk Microsoft!
For years I had been saying that I would not buy an iPod product. After all, they sell music in the iTunes music store with DRM on it. All of my music on my Linux computer is in the OGG format and it can’t be played with iPods. However, when it came time to buy an audio player I did a bit of research. It had to be something I could buy at the local Best Buy because I had a coupon and gift card. Of the players sold at Best Buy, the players which supported OGG were, ironically, not well supported on Linux. In fact, the best supported and integrated player in Linux was the iPod. That’s important to me since I use my Linux computer for serving my main audio needs. All of my podcasts come in through Rhythmbox. The second requirement I had is that it had to be of the same form factor as the 2nd Generation iPod Shuffle so that it could use it at the gym clipped onto my shirt or shorts and not weigh me down at all. I used to work out with an iPaq in my pocket and it was not very comfortable at all.
First I installed gtkpod onto my computer. Then I plugged the Shuffle into Mario, my main Linux computer, and Rhythmbox promptly crashed. I tried a few different combinations such as plugging in the iPod first or starting Rhythmbox first. Then I ran gtkpod and realized that something was not setup correctly on the file system of the Shuffle. So I plugged it into my Windows computer and ran iTunes and the first little setup wizard. I named it 1UPMUSHROOM to go along with my Mario theme.
After that everything worked perfectly. So even though everyone was scared that with the latest updates, iPods wouldn’t work with Linux, the gtkpod people got it working – at least it worked for me with an iPod I just bought from the store. I’ve been enjoying it for the past week or so and am able to listen to my podcasts at the gym instead of those stupid radio programs they usually play.
Blogged with Flock
This year I decided to mainly support technological causes. I donated to the Free Software Foundation and the Electronic Frontier Foundation. I think that rms and the rest over at the FSF are really doing a lot of great work to preserve our freedoms. I especially like the Defective by Design campaign they’ve been running. So this year they get the lion’s share of my money.
The EFF has been doing a lot of work with other things I care about such as opposing the broadcast flag and overall protecting our electronic and Internet freedoms.
Finally, I donated to NPR because I enjoy their programming every day and I thought it was time to help keep them afloat. This was especially urgent as Congress has recently been reducing the mount of funding they give to public broadcasting, a real shame.
I was going to donate to the Gnome foundation this year, but after their blunder with their support of OOXML and other moves that seem to legitimize Microsoft’s shady actions, I decided to withhold any funds from them this year. There are only two ways to vote in the Free Software world, with programming talent and with money. They get neither from me for 2008.
Blogged with Flock
Time and again I’ve warned my readers of the perils of DRM. (Specifically here and here). That’s why I don’t buy music on iTunes and have given all of my digital music patronage to Amazon.com. Even my wife, who’s not as into FOSS and all that as I am, has become disgusted as she’s understood what DRM means for her – regular Jane Consumer.
I’m not the only one who’s made these claims. Yet others say, “you guys are just using that as an excuse to malign DRM. It’s necessary for protecting content from piracy and you just want to pirate stuff.” Oh yeah? Well, are you prepared to give up your rights to expect your paid content to work when you come back to it in the future?
Then I read this on Download Squad via a link on Digg:
…Major League Baseball has deactivated a DRM license server used to verify your worthiness to play back video of games you purchased online. …MLB’s new content and old content are managed by different license authentication servers. After making the switch, MLB has arbitrarily decided it has no intention of honoring its earlier commitments to fans who purchased downloaded games under the old system, thereby rendering many fans shut-out. …MLB is completely unapologetic to fans who’ve lost their purchased content to the horrors of DRM death.
“Shame on you Major League Baseball, this is fraud. We’ve warned Download Squad readers that buying DRM “protected” media is a crap-shoot, but when issuing those warnings we were mostly concerned about smaller media sales outlets going out-of-business in an ever evolving digital media landscape. This goes so far beyond those fears, with an active and profitable business making a clear and informed decision to yank the DRM rug out from under your purchased content.Is it any wonder non-drm downloads via P2P are so popular? …it’s …about “freedom”, the freedom to do what you wish with the content you’ve collected. If consumers aren’t given options which allow them to get their content free as in freedom, they’ll take that content free as in beer.
So, basically, these people paid money to download these baseball video clips and now they can no longer watch them. Why should they get punished in the same way as people who did not pay for these clips? Is this ethical? I don’t think so!
I’ve had my own experience with content dying on me. When I was in college I decided to buy some songs off of the new Napster. Then my computer died. When I tried to renegotiate the DRM a few months ago, it said that I can no longer listen to that music because they no longer have a contract with Napster. What kind of BS is that? This is not the kind of world I want to live in. If you agree, you should join me in boycotting all content with DRM! If you want digital music, buy CDs or buy it on Amazon.com. (If you want more indie music there’s also DRM free music at Magnatunes)
Blogged with Flock
I’ve already spent around $11 on Amazon.com’s MP3 download store. Why? Because they are selling MP3s of my favorite artists without any digital restrictions management (DRM). This is what has been keeping both my wife and I away from iTunes. Oh yeah, and the songs are cheaper than iTunes! It appears that all of the day’s Top downloads are $0.89 and the rest are $0.99. On iTunes the DRM-free songs are $1.89 or something like that. Looks like Apple’s going to need to do a price drop or there’s going the be a mass exodus to Amazon.com.
Also, they are MP3s, not AACs, so I can use the music on any computer or portable device and not just the iPod!
Here’s the music freedom and the hope that the rest of the music companies will join in!