Digital rights management and issues of internet piracy

By on March 18, 2013
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Being an ardent fan of video games, I was ecstatic when my copy of Wreck-It Ralph came in the mail last Tuesday. The excitement, however, soon gave way to disappointment and frustration. Why? Not having a Blu-Ray player on campus, I had to use my computer. My version of the Blu-Ray player software was too old to play anything released after 2011, though, and an upgrade cost at least $70.

Well, at least there’s the digital copy, I thought. I authorized my computer, and copied the file over to my hard drive. Much to my dismay, Windows Media Player told me that I couldn’t play it on my larger monitor because the connection to the monitor did not meet “content-protection” requirements. I was left to watching the movie on my small laptop screen while waiting to go home to watch the movie in its full HD glory.

Small wonder why so many people turn to piracy when it comes to movies and TV shows.

Digital rights management, or DRM for short, has been around for quite a while now. Ostensibly implemented to preserve intellectual property and ensure that musicians, filmmakers, and software-makers get their fair share of payment, the real purpose of DRM boils down to make sure that digital goods, such as games, music, and movies, are used by only a licensed user, and only in ways that the distributor has approved.

To this ends, many forms of “protection” have been implemented. Take, for example, games that require an internet login, or downloaded movies that require authorization to play, or Blu-Ray movies that require software with a valid decryption key to play (Blu-Ray movies are encrypted, and Blu-Ray players and computers need a key database to decrypt and play the movie).

All of this protection results in totally unnecessary and overwhelmingly cumbersome hurdles that the user has to jump through to watch his movie or play her game. Physically, DRM would be akin to a book that only I could read on a specific set of tables. If I don’t put the book down on a certified table, the book refuses to open; if I lend the book to a friend, all she would see is gibberish on the pages. To read the book elsewhere, I have to buy another version of the book, and my friend would have to buy her own copy.

Pirated content, on the other hand, has none of those restrictions. Once downloaded, movies, games, and music could be played anywhere by anyone. The most attractive feature of pirated content is not the price, but rather the convenience. After a person obtains a copy of a product, he or she wants to be able to use as they like. Pirated content offers that, while legal, DRM-protected products don’t.

DRM is quite literally helping contribute to the problem it is trying to solve. While removing DRM by itself would not solve the problem of piracy, doing so would definitely help. When both the legal and pirated content has no restrictions on use, the pirated content suddenly loses much of its advantage. Not only would the legal content be unrestricted, the user would not run the risk of being caught pirating. People are willing to pay, but they are only willing to pay when the product they receive can be used without arbitrary and troublesome restrictions.

Tianjiao Zhang
Staff Writer
tzhang@uab.edu

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