So what’s wrong with DRM in the platform anyway?

As I said yesterday, it's going to take a bit of time to get the next article in the "cdrom playback" series working, so I thought I'd turn the blog around and ask the people who read it a question.

I was reading Channel9 the other day, and someone turned a discussion of longhorn into a rant against the fact that Longhorn's going to be all about DRM (it's not, there will be DRM support in Longhorn, just like there has been DRM support in just about every version of Windows that's distributed windows media format).

But I was curious.  Why is it so evil that a platform contain DRM support?

My personal opinion is that DRM is a tool for content producers.  Content Producers are customers, just like everyone else that uses our product is a customer.  They want a platform that provides content protection.  You can debate whether or not that is a reasonable decision, but it's moot - the content producers today want it.

So Microsoft, as a platform vendor provides DRM for the content producers.  If we didn't, they wouldn't use our media formats, they'd find some other media format that DOES have DRM support for their content.

The decision to use (or not use) DRM is up to the content producer.  It's their content, they can decide how to distribute it.  You can author and distribute WMA/WMV files without content protection - all my ripped CDs are ripped without content protection (because I don't share them).  I have a bunch of WMV files shot on the camcorder that aren't DRM'ed - they're family photos, there's no point in using rights management.

There are professional content producers out there that aren't using DRM for their content (Thermal and a Quarter is a easy example I have on the tip of my tongue (as I write this, they've run out of bandwidth 🙁 but...)).  And there are content producers that are using DRM.

But why is it evil to put the ability to use DRM into the product?

Comments (53)

  1. Matt Evans says:

    I’m pretty anti-DRM but a few years back i went to a DRM presentation (at work) and after asking some troll-ish type questions actually got a pretty clever answer.

    If Microsoft (or some technology company) doesn’t provide a DRM platform, either the Media conglomerates will come up with one themselves (awful), or they’ll get what they want via legislation (even worse).

    They’re going to get their DRM either way. It might as well be MS that provides it instead of Sony or Warner Bros or $bought_and_paid_for_senator.

    At least there’s a _chance_ we’ll do something that isn’t terrible.

  2. Josh says:

    I think the usual answer is that by providing a DRM platform, people belive that MS is encouraging content to be protected. People don’t want that. They want to be able to play their music that they buy on CDs on their iPod. Especially with the whole trusted computing thing, MS seems to be aiding the content providers in locking people out of doing what they want to do with the media they buy.

  3. Ryan says:

    My beef with DRM has more to do with its current limitations. I have somewhat limited experience with it since I try to avoid DRM’d content like the plague 😉 So on to my beef, I do NOT like being told on what I can listen to/view my legally obtained content. Case in point, I have downloaded a number of songs off of MSN music onto my laptop. I went to transfer them to my MP3 player the other day, since I listen to them on the bus on the way to school. No go, they are DRM’d and thus I can’t transfer them, they are forever stuck on my laptop, woo hoo because when I think of relaxing and listening to some music I like I sure do think of lugging my laptop all around with me, as opposed to ohh I don’t know my mp3 player which is the size of a pack of gum. As far as my opinions on it being included in Windows? I don’t really care, as long as it is an opt in type thing. Like you said you currently can choose to DRM things or not, as long as it doesn’t turn into a situation where everything is DRM’d by default. I recognize there is always a trade off between security and usability, and a constant battle between content producers and consumers. I just want to make sure that both sides are being represented, and all decisions aren’t being forced by unethical, corrupt organizations (cough cough RIAA/MPAA cough cough)

  4. leafmuncher says:

    DRM is not evil a priori. It’s evil in what content producers end up using it for. The fact that a digital album download costs as much (or more) as the physical CD, AND the restrictions placed on the digital download (limited number of computers, burns, etc.) are more restrictive than the physical equivalent is insane. Digital content should be about enablement, not restriction.

    So in that sense, putting DRM into the platform is like being a gun manufacturer: You can tout all the positive reasons for owning guns, but at the end of the day guns are used for a whole lot of bad reasons.

    What content providers fail to realize is that if they offered a DRM-free product at reasonable prices, it suddenly becomes a viable alternative to the content downloaded off one of the P2P solutions.

    DRM is one of those things we will look at 20 years from now and remember as a artificial construct built to temporarily maintain economic scenarios that were no longer viable.

    Just my 0.000001$US.

  5. BillG says:

    I asked the same thing. People told me two things:

    1. There is no DRM standard, so there is lock in ( We know how much we _hate_ locking ;))

    2. People still seem to think that we are convicted monopolists or something and don’t feel easy with use pushing the DRM solutions.


    It will all just be fine.

  6. The biggest problems I have with DRM are that I can’t use it the way I want to, and it is totally dependent on the company that provides it.

    Firstly, I can take a song I have personally ripped into an mp3, load it on all the computers in my house, all the mp3 players I have, and burn it to as many cds I want for my own use. All perfectly legal and good. I can even go so far as stream it to my work computer and listen to it there. Even further, I recently realized the last batch of CD-R’s I purchased had a bunch of lemons, so I had to reburn a bunch of cds. With DRM I don’t have those freedoms. I might be able to keep it on my computer and burn it to a cd (singular) or even a couple of cds, but I am still limited to the number of times I can do that. If I get a crappy cd that skips all over the place, I wasted one of my precious burns, and have to use another.

    For the second point, what happens if Napster goes bankrupt (again)? All the songs I "purchased" still work on my current music player, but what if future ones don’t support it? If I have an mp3 or an unDRM’ed (is that a word?) version of a song, I can convert it to a newer, more popular format, but I can’t do that with a DRM’ed song without breaking the law (DMCA).

    Aside from all that, I am really really really anal about my music files, and having 1 or 2 wma files in a folder full of mp3’s sticks out like a sore thumb to me :).

  7. Edward says:

    Microsoft provided a DRM platform with a lot of flexibility. Tracks and be played {W} many times or until {X} date. They can be copied to {Y} devices and burnt to CD {Z} many times etc.

    The content publishers then set up their own stored base on that platform and all of them seemed to choose to use the Maximum restrictions. So we got sold files that could only be played on one computer, for a week without relicensing, could not be copied to devices or burnt to a CD at all.

    It was only after the iTunes store was set up with far more leniant restrictions that the other providers started to loosen up a bit. This situation created the impression that Microsofts DRM was far more "evil" than the competition.

    Perhaps there should have been more guidence regarding what were reasonable restrictions to impose on consumers, rather than letting them lock everything down so tight.

    I really think there should be just one DRM standard though. I have tracks that only play on iTunes and iPods, tracks that only play with WMP10. I have a WMA capable device, but that can’t play Janus etc. It just gets annoying that these artificial restrictions have been created.

  8. Edward says:

    There is the whole issue about the Secure Audio Path, and not giving third parties access to the APIs unless they used WMA rights management.

    Basically using your monopoly on the desktop PC, and your ability to specify the driver model and signing procedure, to ensure that only Microsoft type DRM had access to that high level of protection on Windows.

    Though I don’t think the SAP has ever been used much, since most people are still running unsigned audio drivers.

  9. Bobby says:

    I don’t think everyone has such a problem with putting DRM in the platform, its more because it’s Microsoft doing it.

    It gives Microsoft a great deal of power to gain control as the main DRM provider. I’m not trying to MS bash here like so many others have already done about DRM, I’m just trying to be honest. A lot of people fear being forced to use MS products becuase it is the only method to get at their DRM products. Add to the fear the thought MS might either charge end-users for validation services (not very likely at all) or charge vendors to host validation services for them (more likely) and having the costs passed onto the consumer… it’s not something I’m looking forward to.

    It’s hard to fault MS though, it’s a great business idea, and a great way to make money and make the content producers happy.

    Unfortunately, it brings the nightmare of license management to home users. Do I have 1 or 2 licenses for this CD? Do I have enough licenses for this movie to let the kids watch it on their TV upstairs? Where’d my proof of license go for this 5 year old CD go? Do I have to buy it again? I’m going to visit my friends and they want me to bring a movie, which movies in my collection do I have the ‘play at a friends house’ license for?

    It’s hard enough for IT departments to manage and track all the licenses they have, forcing this on home users is a recipe for disaster.

    Most of this applies to ANY DRM, not just the DRM MS is proposing in Longhorn. MS just happens to be a bigger target 😉

    They scenario that scares me most is if I buy a new music CD and the content is protected WMA files only. I can’t transfer them to my iPod. If I don’t have the right CD player in my car/stereo/kitchen cdplayer, I might not be able to listen to the cd at all locations easily. And you can definately throw out my Linux box in the basement from ever working with a DRM’d CD, at least legally.

    It is frustrating to users to have DRM on anything and to have more restrictions on what used to have no restrictions. Putting DRM in the platform almost guarntees more things will be protected in the future, increasing the frustration.

    I know DRM is coming, no matter what now. I think the ideal DRM solution would be an open spec, (like HTTP TCP) that anyone is free to implement. Any entity would be able to provide their own authentication and verification systems. In a scenario like that, I’m much less likely to encounter a CD that will only play on Windows machines or in select brand CD players for my car/home/etc. And for those content producers unable or unwillling to provide their own authentication, they can farm out the management of licenses to a third party.

    Of course, given the chance, I’ll always buy the un-DRMed version of a product, just because I won’t have to deal with the hassles of DRM. DRM is a hard thing to balance right, you want to protect your IP, but at the same time, you don’t want to frustrate your end-user to the point they won’t buy your product, or worse, they try to circumvent the DRM.

    Sorry, went a little overboard. It boils down to: end-users don’t want DRM and they see MS as the person putting the DRM in there and not connecting the dots back to the content producer.

  10. domovoi says:

    "end-users don’t want DRM"

    That remains to be seen, after all, iTMS has been pretty successful. Microsoft is only in the position of supplying demand. If customers actually stopped buying content with DRM, then the content producers would not demand such technologies be incorporated.

  11. Mike Dunn says:

    >But why is it evil to put the ability to use DRM into the product?

    That’s not the issue, from what I’ve seen. Some people think DRM, *any* DRM, is evil, no matter who writes it or where it’s located in the system.

    Matt makes a good point that the alternative is scary: lawmakers (many of whom are old men with no clue about computers) trying to make laws going only on the input of music industry lobbyists. *shiver*

  12. AndyM says:

    Have to agree with the earlier comments – DRM is a band-aid to patch up a broken business model. Until the content providers learn that hurting their customers is entirely counterproductive then DRM will be an issue. MS will (quite properly) have an interest in providing DRM technology until the content providers desire for DRM abates.

    Something else that I’ve not noticed much comment about in the DRM debates is that copyrights *expire*. Far too much content gets locked up forever, extending control over content that exceeds copyright limitations (and exercise of fair use rights).

    And that’s before you even get started on the anti-trust implications…

  13. Bobby says:

    "iTMS has been pretty successful"

    I’d say its because people are so in love with their iPods and are more willing to drink the Apple Kool-aid. I’d also venture to say because the iTunes DRM is fairly lax and you don’t notice it in general use. Most people don’t care if when they burn the m4p file to CD and rerip to mp3 it is technically degraded in quality, they can’t hear it.

    Oh, and all those easy to find utilities to remove the iTMS DRM probably doesn’t hurt, either.

  14. Austin Ehlers says:

    One of the main problems with DRM is that it doesn’t work (hackers can bypass it), and it frustrates legitimate users. Not to mention the fact that by-passing DRM is a criminal offense (even if you just want a backup). Think about it. Violating the TOS of some company can get you arrested.

    Also, what happens if the licensing agent goes out of business? Your legitimate purchase is now junk on your hard drive.

    I urge anyone who thinks that both DRM works, and that it is a good thing, to read Cory Doctorow’s speech on DRM given to MSR:

  15. I bought my first CD ten years ago, perhaps longer. Several years later I ripped it into MP3 format and could stick it in a playlist with other songs I liked. A few years after that I re-ripped it into Ogg Vorbis format, because there’s nothing out there that can soundly beat it without having other restrictions.

    Tell me, if I bought a song from a Windows Media store today, could I play it on the equipment I’ll be buying ten years from now? If not, can I be sure I’ll be able to convert it to a format my new-fangled portable can play without being chucked in jail for longer than somebody who committed ABH?

    What about when the copyright on a work runs out and it’s now public domain? Will I be able to break the DRM then? No? Hmm…

  16. Xavier says:

    <p>I don’t think that most (sane) users believe that the option of DRM is inherently evil. I do think that most users, myself included, are afraid of Microsoft’s DRM because it doesn’t make any provisions (that I’m aware of) toward what I see as fair uses of content I’ve paid money to use. In this context it seems that Microsoft is siding with content producers <em>against</em> other users, rather than positioning its platform as an impartial intermediary that both groups can trust.</p>

  17. AndrewSeven says:

    "My personal opinion is that DRM is a tool for content producers. Content Producers are customers, just like everyone else that uses our product is a customer."

    To me this sounds more like they are your partners. I guess that a partner is a kind of customer, but they are not the same kind of customer that my mom is.

  18. Darren,

    You’re putting forward an argument that DRM from the producer is bad.

    That’s not what I’m asking about, I’m asking about DRM in the PLATFORM.

    There’s a big difference. Also, OGG and WMA are comparable (I think WMA is a bit better, but it fundamentally doesn’t matter – OGG and WMA are both good codecs). Both support non DRM’ed playback.

    Or are you really saying that because the WMA content has the POTENTIAL to be DRM’ed it is inherently flawed? I don’t follow that argument.

  19. mschaef says:

    "Have to agree with the earlier comments – DRM is a band-aid to patch up a broken business model"

    Ditto. The media producing industry has a long history of stupid policies towards copy protection. Jack Valenti has even gone on record saying (years ago) that the videotape would destroy the movie industry. 25 years later, videotape and successor formats are at the very heart of the movie industry’s business model. DRM is as much an attempt to prolong an existing (flawed) business model as was an attempt to ban videotape.

    The other ‘evilness’ to DRM has to do with the fact that it can be a powerful lever to use against open source. If software needs to be signed to run on a piece of hardware, that’s a pretty good way to exclude an open source OS. If software needs to be signed to run on a particular OS, that’s a good way to exclude an open source media player. Taken to the extreme, it would make a computer work kind of like a cell phone running J2ME, where third party developers are limited to using a severe subset of the platform’s capability.

  20. mschaef says:

    One more thing: the origins of the personal computer are in personal freedom. People developed and used PC’s (not just IBM’s) so they could get away from centrally run, centrally controled machines. DRM represents a loss of personal freedoms, even if it’s mostly symbolic, that runs counter to this tradition.

  21. Edward says:

    The other thing that caused a lot of problems was that at least WMP8 that came with Windows XP, and I think some other versions, was set to use DRM on all the tracks people ripped from their own CDs.

    Of course when reinstalling their systems, or suffering a hard disc problem even when they thought they had backed up, a load of people couldn’t access their own tracks any more. Theres nothing like the frustration when you find that the 1000 or so tracks you have painstakingly ripped and catagorised are now useless to you.

    I think the default has now been changed to not use DRM, but honestly why would anyone ever have wanted to use it in the first place?

  22. Jeff Parker says:

    I really do not have a problem with it right now. I use MSN Music. At least I did for one albulm. I may or may not use it again. So I do not think it is Evil in any way I just do not think it is well thought out and well Beta so to speak. So why is so rejected that Microsoft is implementing. Windows 95 crashes and bugs will haunt MS I think forever. You know me I am a pretty die hard MS FAN. DRM is beta and not well thought out I think that before MS Implements it needs to really be defined better.

    It is not that I do not like it or do not like the idea of it, it is just that I do not know how it is going to pan out. For Example the number one thing I have music traded is Out of Print stuff. Stuff I had on Tape or Yes 33 speed Albums that is no longer in print. So the one albulm I bought from msn music that is DRM protected. What happens if it goes out of print and then later loose my hard drive and say I never got it backed up. Am I now out of luck? I can no longer listen to music I enjoy. There is a vast ammount of music that is out of print that I still listen to this day and was very very happy when I was able to get it again from Napster in its hey day. So what now happens when something goes out of print. Can the DRM guys just disable it on my computer? Like I say there is a log of it undefined. Beta

  23. Edward,

    You may be right on that one, and you’re right, it does seem like a silly default. I’ll ask the player team to see if I can find out why..

  24. The problem with DRM is that it hurts legitimate users only. Those who steal music can EASILY bypass practically ANY DRM. DRM is just bits and bytes, and if a human can think it, another human can destroy it. It’ll be an eternal cat and mouse game until someone quits yet the ONLY people affected are legit users.

    I believe getting around a current restriction is itself an evil act, though people continually do it without reprocussion. I do think it’s a band-aid on a flawwed business model and that content producers want MORE MONEY for LESS WORK. A CD I bought 10 years ago was perfectly fine to the RIAA back then yet that same CD bought now is completely locked down for one purpose: more money. I shouldn’t HAVE to pay more money for the same exact content I could have 10 years ago. Inflation is real and I do understand upping prices to compensate but the fact of the matter is companies WANT subscription models becuase it means less work for them. Hell if they could they’d rather do NO work and get money for it. I’m sorry but in this world you get a service (money) for a service (goods). If we went back a couple hundred years when BARTER was the standard form of payment, this mentality wouldn’t work. It would be considered STEALING yet now it’s perfectly acceptable? A crook in a 3 peice suit is still a crook and I’ll call it like I see ’em.

    I do admit that things like copying are a problem for content producers but there should be an acceptable understanding of what’s "legal". Me giving you a burned copy of a CD is "ethically wrong" and morals should decide the outcome but me copying the music to another device because perhaps that device DIED, well ethically that is acceptable. I bought it, I paid for it, so I should be able to do whatever I want within the confines of the equipment I OWN. That’s how I think it SHOULD be but I don’t think it’ll ever get there. Yes, pirating is a problem that I will admit but punishing EVERYONE for it? I don’t consider that a wise choice. I do agree something has to be done, just not this something because those that have been getting around the current restrictions will turn right around and find ways around the new ones. This will happen until the end of the known universe though I’d love to be proven wrong.

  25. "You’re putting forward an argument that DRM from the producer is bad."

    No, I’m arguing that DRM is bad full stop. How do any of my arguments change in light of the fact that Microsoft may change the format? That portable music players may drop support for old versions of WMA? When the authentication server is down, how do I get a renewed license? What if some uber-format comes out that has a five or ten times better compression ratio than existing formats? Would I be able to convert my DRM’d tracks?

    "Also, OGG and WMA are comparable"

    Really? . BTW, Ogg is a container format, Vorbis is the codec.

    "Both support non DRM’ed playback."

    I don’t care. Tell me, how much does a WMA encoder cost me?

    "Or are you really saying that because the WMA content has the POTENTIAL to be DRM’ed it is inherently flawed? I don’t follow that argument."

    Nope, I’m saying that I can use/implement Ogg Vorbis on whatever I want without fear of being sued by Microsoft.

  26. Antonio says:

    I live in Brazil and we too suffer with DRM’d content, simply because the media companies are the same all around the world and all of them (well, almost all) are US companies, affiliated to the RIAA/MPAA… (note that I’m not being anti-american here, I respect them and I think that if any other country – even mine – were at their economical position, our companies would behave the same way yours do, so, it’s in human nature…)

    Jeremy Brayton, you said:

    "Me giving you a burned copy of a CD is "ethically wrong" and morals should decide the outcome".

    Well, I can think of a situation where I (and probably most people) wouldn’t think it’s unethical… What it if said CD is out of print and a friend or relative wants a copy? Should I tell him "You’re out of luck!" ???

    Hell, no, I certainly would copy it and don’t think I’d be hurting anyone’s bussiness in doing that!

    Another quote from you, Jeremy: "I believe getting around a current restriction is itself an evil act, though people continually do it without reprocussion."

    Ok, let me tell you a little story of mine…

    A friend bought a CD (pirated!) that I liked, from a local band! I could easily have ripped or copied it for me, but since I liked it very much, I decided to buy the original… And so I did it, to my sad surprise!! The disc was DRM’d (distributed by EMI) and the notice about this fact was too small and on the back of the cover!

    So, I bought it without knowing this, and only noticed it when I tried playing it on my Win XP computer, and it launched an app install, it’s own player! On the computer, I can’t see the tracks, or even play it using Winamp ou WMP. Worse, I can’t play it on a Linux box (without circumventing the protection) cause the player is Windows only!

    But the "what the hell is this?"-type question was reserved to when I tried it on my car CD player and it wouldn’t play almost everytime I tried it, or some times it would play but I couldn’t search the disc using fast forward or reverse (or else the disc would return to the begining of track 1).

    My solution? I easily ripped it with Nero (using a brand new LG CD burner, my 4 years old Sony one wouldnt’read it…) and burnt a copy to hear on my car.

    The original sits on my shelf collecting dust, I hear an "illegal" copy on my car and yet I paid the artists (although the lion’s share goes to EMI) for the nice work they’ve done.

    Now I ask you, is this *fair use* "an evil act" as you said? Do I deserve to be prosecuted (the question is moral, irrespective of local laws) and face a huge fine and possibly jail??

    I think these are questions to be thought about!

  27. Darren,

    "How much does a WMA encoder cost me?" Nothing (check the license to be sure). Go to:

    for the format SDK. Now if you want to implement the format yourself on a non Windows platform, that’s another story, for that, you go to:

    For the ASF Format, it’s free:

    For the WMA/WMF format, the license costs are:

    You’re right, Vobis and WMA is the pedantically correct comparison (as is Ogg and ASF).

    Was that listening test conducted with a single or double blind methodology? If it wasn’t, then it’s not a fair test. The only real way to conduct a listening test that’s fair is to invite the user into a room and have them listen to the content.

    For example:,1558,1561918,00.asp

    They’ve got a somewhat different set of results than the listening test you quoted.

  28. Ryan says:

    "Something else that I’ve not noticed much comment about in the DRM debates is that copyrights *expire*."

    What country are you in?

    In the US they just get extended.

  29. [Sorry this got long; just read the numbered points for an executive summary]

    There’s nothing wrong with what Microsoft is doing, insofar as it is just reacting to the market – content producers won’t sell their content via Microsoft if Microsoft doesn’t provide DRM.

    The problems I have with DRM are philosophical, not business-related:

    1) DRM Changes The Default.

    Whereas without DRM, works are available unencumbered by default and are freely exploitable upon copyright termination, with DRM, a creator must go out of his/her way to make content usable after the termination of copyright. That is a Very Long Time (, so you’re not likely to find the former owner to ask for the keys. Besides, why would they give you the keys anyway? Who cares about copyright/fair use/public domain/etc if you have good locks on your work?

    Before, everything became free eventually. With DRM, this is an exception case. We’re systems people here; we should understand the danger of changing a default like this, or at least be highly suspicious.

    2) DRM Renders Irrelevant Common Law And History.

    Copyright has always admitted the Doctrine of First Sale – if you buy a book, you can re-sell that book to a used book store, give it to a friend, burn it at a book burning party (we have a lot of those here in Kansas…), etc., and all without asking permission from or paying the original creator. This doctrine has its limits, but it has been a part of our common law system since, well, at least as long as Copyright has existed (1704ish), and theoretically long before.

    There is no way to exercise any rights you may have under this doctrine if the content is locked up.

    3) DRM Prevents Fair Use.

    We are guaranteed fair use rights by statutory law and by common law. These rights include the ability to take a short snippet of a work and use it in certain ways, the right to reproduce parts of a work in an academic setting, and more. With the lock in place, you cannot exercise these rights, unless you can talk the creator into un-locking the content.

    4) Exceptions Are Impractical.

    If you aren’t very resourceful or very wealthy (a special case of resourceful, I guess), you can’t do anything about getting any of your lost rights back. It costs too much to get your lawyer to write a letter to their lawyer, notwithstanding the license fee.

    Anyway, the solution is NOT to get mad at Microsoft, Apple, or anyone else, unless perhaps under a theory of "doing the right thing." That’s not really valid either, in the sense that our system doesn’t incent corporations to do this particular right thing. Apple’s shareholders would all sue Jobs if he decided it was "wrong" to use DRM. Don’t blame Microsoft for following the "rules".

    No, this is one of those "tragedy of the commons" issues like environmentalism or anti-trust or child labor – it can only be effectively addressed by public policy.

    Check out Lawrence Lessig’s book _Free Culture_ for a much more eloquent and thorough discussion of some of these arguments.

  30. Chris says:

    It should also be mentioned that Bill G should have learned this in the 80’s when copy-protection schemes proved both impractical and sufficiently annoying to users as to cost product sales. The difference is that now Bono can say "Hey Bill, I don’t want people stealing my Tunes!" and Bill can pretend that there’s a technical solution that works. (But what happens when Bono comes back and says "now fix the analog hole"?)

  31. David Barker says:


    Take a look at this. It’s one of the best articles on DRM and guess what… it was given at Microsoft! 🙂


  32. Pieter Breed says:

    The problem with DRM in general for myself is two-fold:

    1) – Fair use. (This is a very old argument) In the old days when I bought a CD I could go and make legal mp3’s from them to play in my car. If, for example, the CD was content protected, this privilege would be taken away. I would in effect have to pay a second time, for the same content, but to allow me another use.

    2) – Platform dependancy. (This is a huge issue for me here in South Africa) Unfortunately not everyone has MS-based solutions. Some people use linux too. Some people use software that is neither MS nor linux, but goes with specific hardware, like my girlfriend’s portable media player. These people can easily, for example, implement a reader for the WMA format (and this is the case for our player) but a DRM’ed file is inaccessible to me on that device. I "bought" or licensed the content legally, but access to it is denied for me, just because it is not a MS based solution with access to the decrypting facilities that MS developed for DRM. In a similar vein the whole MS "plays-for-sure" campaign (although it is a good consumer brand) is a hack to work around this issue that should never have been an issue in the first place.



  33. Ross says:

    Nothing wrong with it IN the platform, but obviously some people have issues with DRM itself rather than the fact that Microsoft have provided for it.

    And if it is <A href="">good enough for Linus</A> …

  34. "’How much does a WMA encoder cost me?’" Nothing."

    That’s not quite true, is it? After all, "included in the cost of a copy of Windows" is not "nothing."

    "Was that listening test conducted with a single or double blind methodology?"

    Yes. In fact, you can still take the test yourself, if you care to check.

    [ExtremeTech tests]

    "They’ve got a somewhat different set of results than the listening test you quoted."

    I *may* know why that is. The stock Vorbis encoder had been stagnant for some time, unfortunately. The guy behind the listening test I quoted used the aoTuV encoder, which is now used in the Vorbis 1.1 encoder:

    I believe it was shown to have considerably better than Vorbis 1.0 while retaining full backwards compatibility. That’s one of the great things about Free Software, other people can take over if the original authors get slack.

  35. Wound says:

    A little while ago I bought three tracks from the new Napster with DRM on. I could (and did) copy that file to my mp3 player and I was happy. Then a hard drive crash killed my PC and I had to reinstall windows, log on to napster and download the mp3 again. THEN I was forced to reinstall windows again (SP2 upgrade screwed up somehow) and I was informed that this was the last time I would be allowed to download the mp3. What?!?!? I’ve paid for that licence, but if I have to swap OS in the future then I’ll have to buy the track again!

  36. Random Developer says:

    One additional wrinkle with DRM is that content can’t currently be licensed to a unique person; the closest you can get is a unique person’s particular piece of content-playing hardware, or a unique person’s user account under Windows, or something like that. The technology just doesn’t exist to do it the right way.

    By this, I mean that if Joe Hacker downloads something from WinMedia, it should be licensed to Joe Hacker, not Joe’s WinContentPlayer, or Joe’s "jhacker" user account. You want to guarantee that, no matter how the content is being played, Joe is the only one playing it. Unfortunately, you can’t attach a license to Joe’s biometric signature.

  37. Mike Feldkamp says:

    It isn’t evil. It’s only evil when you take away the ability to play normal audio. Of course this will never happen, but the tin-foil-hat-wearing crowd will continue to worry about it.

    I find it funny that when MS does DRM, it’s evil. However, when Apple does DRM, it’s all bunny rabbits and sunshine. I’ve worked as a programmer/engineer in the entertainment industry for all of my career (only 6 years, first at AMG and now Musicland), and during this time I’ve had to deal with several people in the Windows Media division at MS. All of them were great, helpful, and certainly not evil. One guy there who was fairly high up(Keith Toussaint, if I remember correctly) even answered questions I had about the various WM SDKs, and at the time I was but a lowly junior programmer, a freshman in college, green as can be. Apple, of course, was a different story.

    Now, what is evil is the process you have to go through to obtain the Windows Media Rights Manager 10 SDK. I’m still hurting from that pint of blood I had to send to MS.

  38. Andrew says:

    Is it evil to build bombs if you don’t personally drop them? OK, so maybe that is a little excessive as an analogy but what ticks most people off about DRM is that it hands the content providers a way to remove the fair use rights of the consumers. If you could find a way to guarantee fair use of DRM’d content then the world would be a different place.


  39. Dan Maas says:

    As I see it, most posters are against Microsoft implementing DRM because DRM is bad (well duh). But that assumes the choices are A) Microsoft DRM and B) no DRM. But that’s not the case. The actual choice is more like A) Microsoft/Apple DRM vs. B) MPAA/RIAA/Congress DRM.

    No amount of rationalizing or whining is going to convince the major media companies that they won’t lose their collective shirts if they release digital content without DRM.

  40. Dan Maas says:

    Oh and I totally agree with the point about expiration. I am curious to know if Microsoft’s or anyone else’s DRM scheme includes an expiration date as part of the DRM meta-info.

    Incidentally, I know a university teacher who needs to use excerpts from DVD filmsin his class. I recommended he buy a TBC (an expensive broadcast video device which happens to defeat Macrovision copy-prevention on analog video signals). He did, and it’s the only way he could get decent quality excerpts from the films.

  41. Jeff Parker says:

    You know I thought of this post this weekend. Here is another problem with it.

    I subscribe to Netflix, which this will become a problem as well in the future I am guessing. This weekend I was in the kitchen preping a meal, with cutting everything up getting the marinades all ready and so forth including clean up this whole thing takes about about 2 hours.

    Well I have a under the counter computer with a nice LCD that I hooked all up with wireless internet and so on in my kitchen much like some would have a TV in the kitchen. I have always played DVDs on there before. Nice way to pass the time while prepping some good grub on the weekend. I pop in a new release movie into the dvd drive and windows media player 10 comes up and tells me Sorry this is a DRM protected dvd you must purchase a license to watch it. Well I rented the movie I didn’t buy it. I shouldn’t have to purchase a license to watch it. While I know it would play in my normal DVD player now I can not watch it on my computer that has a DVD player. Sollution install a DVD Viewer that has not implemented DRM. Now being able to see that this is something I do on a regular basis, watch movies in my kitchen, I changed my default media player to Nero. I guess I do not want to fight DRM. Like I say it still needs a lot of work.

  42. &#216;ystein says:

    I don’t see really DRM as a problem. I would never dream of buying music with copying restrictions anyway. I am somewhat surprised to see how many people actually use ITunes,MSN Music et al.

    Of course, what we really want, is some provider/publisher/whatever that offer us a perpertual (ok, even lifetime is ok) licence to any piece of copyright material. Then we can store our personal media rights online, have access to it anywhere and play it on any device.

    Guess what would happen to sluggish music sales if they dared?

  43. Jim Lyon says:

    Rather than repeat all of the comments from people who think that DRM is evil, I’ll try to directly address the question.


    What is wrong with DRM in the platform? Four things:


    1. Once it’s in the platform, DRM tends to invade everything else in the platform.


    2. Putting DRM into the platform tends to encourage inappropriate use of DRM.


    3. With DRM in the platform, there will be irresistable pressure to prohibit more and more innocuous uses.


    4. DRM in the platform causes Microsoft to resist new technologies.


    5. In the war between the music industry and listeners, it’s impossible for Microsoft to serve both sides simultaneously.


    I elaborate below.



    1. Once it’s in the platform, DRM tends to invade everything else in the platform.


    With DRM in the platform, anything else in the platform that might touch DRM-protected content needs to start becoming DRM-aware.


    For example, take the DRM in Outlook. You can’t view a DRM-protected document if you’ve previously attached a debugger to the Outlook process. Once they discover the hole, they’ll need to prohibit attaching a debugger to the Outlook process after it has previously viewed a DRM’d document. Then someone will come up with an Outlook plugin that defeats DRM. Microsoft will respond by requiring signatures derived from MS-issued certificates on any plugin that can run in Outlook. Congratulations, DRM has just invaded both the debugging interfaces and the plugin interfaces.


    Next, MS will discover that you might view your DRM’d document over RDP (aka Terminal Server). To ensure that the RDP client isn’t inappropriately capturing the data, you’ll need the whole remote attestation story for the client, plus new DRM stuff in the RDP protocol, plus ensuring that the RDP client isn’t being debugged. Congratulations, DRM has just invaded RDP. Goodbye, RDP clients on Macintosh and PocketPC.


    Similarly, over time DRM will invade the video paths in the kernel, the audio paths in the kernel, backup / restore, roving profiles, and so on. If we want to do a good job, it will even need to invade the Virtual PC environment. (What if Outlook isn’t being debugged, but it’s running on a VPC and the emulator is being debugged?)



    2. Putting DRM into the platform tends to encourage inappropriate use of DRM.


    There really is an ethos of "if I wasn’t supposed to use it, they wouldn’t have put it into the platform." Think about all of the DRM-protected mail messages you’ve received. How many of them really needed DRM protection? How many of them used the minimum protection required? (Every DRM message I’ve received restricted all rights — can’t forward, can’t print, can’t copy, can’t save.) And how many of them couldn’t be trivially reproduced by typing their content into another window?


    Another example of inappropriate use is government agencies issuing documents in PDF format that have the flag set to prohibit editting the content. And eBook vendors publishing public-domain content with restrictions against copying, printing, etc.



    3. With DRM in the platform, there will be irresistable pressure to prohibit more and more innocuous uses.


    Once DRM is in the platform, there are two new kinds of bugs that get filed against Microsoft. A "type 1" bug is a situation that allows protected content to escape DRM. A "type 2" bug is a bug where the DRM prohibits innocuous use of some content. DRM has no value unless the number of type 1 bugs is very close to zero. Frequently, the only way to fix a type 1 bug is by introducing some type 2 bugs. The constituency for fixing type 1 bugs is concentrated, powerful, and good at lobbying. The constituency for fixing type 2 bugs is diffuse and relatively powerless. (Besides, we all have other things to do with our lives.) The net result is that more and more type 2 bugs will be introduced in order to fix type 1 bugs.


    As an example of this phenomenon, I have a bought-and-paid-for copy of HyperBowl that I can’t use because when a disk was dying, I used a volume-image program to copy the system do a different disk. (The change in disk serial number apparantly triggers the DRM stuff.) I’m sure that the DRM vendor in this case decided that it was worth it to introduce a type 2 error (don’t run after image copy on the same system) in order to plug a type 1 error (can run after image copy to a different system).


    As another example, I have some home video that cannot be copied because glitches in some scene transitions erroneously stimulate the MacroVision stuff. (Weakening the Macrovision test of gunk in the retrace interval to allow these scene transitions to pass would probably allow some DRM content somewhere to pass, too.)



    4. DRM in the platform causes the platform vendor to resist new technologies.


    This is essentially the mirror image of point 1. Once we’re selling DRM, we can’t do anything that would tend to break it. For example, DRM on music will tend to prevent us from shipping a Tivo-like recorder of every sound that emanates from the PC’s speakers.


    For every new technology, we need to ask what the impact on DRM is, then figure out how to mitigate that impact. When the cost of mitigation exceeds the perceived value of the new technology, either we’ll ignore the new technology, or worse we’ll build stuff that makes it hard / impossible for third parties to use the new technology with our system.


    Our competitors won’t be similarly constrained.



    5. In the war between the music industry and listeners, it’s impossible for Microsoft to serve both sides simultaneously.


    Make no mistake, there is a war on. But it’s not the war that everyone talks about — preventing illegal copying. The music industry has already irretrievably lost that war; it only takes one person anywhere in the world to break the DRM and upload a copy to the Internet, and the cat’s out of the bag.


    No, the real war is that the music industry wants to preserve the need for you to purchase your entire library over again every time formats change. For example, I bought "Dark Side of the Moon" on LP (yeah, I’m that old). I bought it again on cassette, and again on CD. Absent DRM, I’ll never buy it again. The real purpose of DRM is to ensure that I’ll need to buy a new copy every few years.


    This struggle isn’t about compensating artists — it’s a zero sum game between the music publishers and listeners. Every dollar that one gains is a dollar that the other loses. In this kind of situation, it’s impossible to remain neutral. Anything that increases the music industry’s satisfaction with our products decreases listeners’ satisfaction, and vice versa.


    So it all comes down to which set of customers we should value more. If you compare Microsoft’s profits from the music industry with our profits from music listeners, the choice ought to be obvious.

  44. Edward Wohlman says:

    Wow, Jim put it more succinctly than I ever could.

    Looking at the slide from WinHEC

    it looks like the DRM built into Windows is becoming ever more complex, requiring multiple levels of encryption and signing intefaces in both user and kernel mode.

    Don’t you think this is just a bit over the top? This level of complexity introduced in the system at the insistence of some media cartels who are not your core customers?

    The slides position it as the only way Windows would be able to play "Premium" content.

    But who has more power in the marketplace?

    Surely if MS refused to implement all these controls the content creators would still want to be able to sell their media somewhere.

    I doubt many people would want to buy HD-DVDs if the only way to play them was on dedicated and heavily locked down CE devices.

    Look at the Sony PSP, it is rapidly assuming the position that the portable media centers sought to fill. Multiple third parties are creating translation tools to allow peoples own DVDs to be copied to MemorySticks to be played on it. Its not, as Steve Jobs claimed, that no one wants portable video, its that people don’t want to be constrained.

    Sony wants people to rebuy all their movies on UMD disks, but the user community has already spoken, and Sony will still reap the rewards on sales the hardware and high capacity memory sticks. PSPs must have outsold PMCs by at least 100 to 1.

    How are people supposed to get video to put on their PMCs? They need a MCE which will lock down recorded content based on the broadcast flag, or a subscription to some DRMed content provided through WMP. Is Microsoft’s concern primarily focused on selling PMC OS units, or is it about pleasing the "content creators".

    At some point you have to decide to stick up for your customers instead.

  45. Igor says:

    There are few reasons why DRM _usage_ (not the format itself) is evil:

    1. Consumer can’t easily determine which rights he actually posess over the content he paid for

    2. You need internet connection for license acquiring so you cannot play say DRM WMA in your car or portable mp3 player.

    3. You cannot play DRM protected content on "non-trusted" player and platform regardless of having license or not. Anti-trust anyone?

    4. DRM components in player and OS are being changed/updated without your consent.

Skip to main content