The Technical Exorcist

January 15th, 2007

A Case Study on Why DRM is Bad News

Posted by exorcist in Mail

You’ve probably heard a million rants against DRM (Digtial Rights Management) protected music, software, and hardware. You may have wondered if people were making a big deal out of nothing. Well, they aren’t. This letter I received a few weeks ago is a good example of what could very possibly happen to you if you continue to buy DRM infected files.

M–wants to download music from Wal-Mart. In fact she has downloaded an installer and paid for some songs, and downloaded some songs. When she tries to play the songs, WMP 9 says “Windows Media Player has encountered an unknown error.”

Upgrading Windows Media Player did not help. In fact, following all the suggestions listed here
did not help.

The posts give a good description of what I’ve encountered.

One note: it appears that not all of the Windows updates that I’ve downloaded have been installed, and I can’t try that now because M— has stuff running. By tomorrow morning you can probably assume I have installed all the updates without better success.

To clarify: currently when I go to the web page to upgrade DRM support for pre-11 WMP, the button is grayed out (using the latest greatest IE).


And here’s my reply.

Unfortunately, M has got her first taste of why DRM is unacceptable. Even after you buy songs, and have used them for months, your music files are still under their control, and they can and will accidentally (when they aren’t doing it on purpose) screw you over. Since you have all the components they require of you, (Windows is updated, WMP is updated, etc.) the fault lies squarely with them, and there isn’t much you can do besides continue to harass them for swindling you, and make sure they realize how unacceptable this is. You can try to contact their customer support like they suggested (—maybe they can manually validate your licences. Unfortunately, even after they get them working for you, you are still entirely vulnerable. All they have to do is make a mistake in their databases and your music won’t play anymore. Also, the latest version of WMP (I can’t remember if they’ve released it yet,) won’t allow you to back up your licences, so if you have to do a re-format, or otherwise lose your files, you’ve lost all the money you paid.

The only practical solution I’ve managed to come up with is to demand your money back, and buy elsewhere.

Here are some respectable non-DRM stores. They’re selections are somewhat limited, but at least they should work.

You can get a very small amount of free non-DRM music from Amazon as well.

Rumors are flying like mad that Amazon is looking to provide a DRM-free music store with a variable pricing scheme, but Amazon has thought about getting into the music download selling business for a while, and hasn’t done it yet, so I guess I’m not holding my breath.

Good luck

The Technical Exorcist

Do you see the problem? Companies who implement DRM give themselves the right and power to renege on a sale. Instead of a contract between peers, your rights are considered subordinate to theirs. This is reprehensible both ethically and practically. Take this story as a warning. Examine the the service agreements on ITunes, Napster, MSN Music, or any other store, and see if you dare buy from them again.

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