DRM sucks. Film at 11.

2011-08-06 13:36

Apple’s got a new gimmick. They will now “rent” videos as well as “selling” them. If you “rent” a video, you can watch it for about 24 hours. If you “buy” it, you can watch it… for some unspecified period of time until it stops working.

Now, they don’t advertise that time limit, and it may not be intentional, but it’s there, because the video files are protected by “DRM”. DRM is a fancy way of saying “you can’t use this unless you can prove, at the time of use, to our satisfaction, that you have purchased a suitable license.”

Here’s the thing. What happens if Steve Jobs dies, and Apple goes back to being “beleaguered Apple” and then goes under? Your DRM content may well be dead. There’s no one left to authorize it, and no one with any financial incentive to make it work instead of trying to sell you all the same stuff again.

One way or another, that content will cease to work. So you’re not buying it; you’re renting it for an undisclosed term.

If they sold videos without this kind of crap on them, then no matter who died, or who went into or out of business, you could convert the videos to new formats and keep watching them. It would be more as though you owned them, and less as though you were renting them.

The problem with DRM is this: Only legitimate customers are hurt by it. If you don’t want to pay extra for the privilege of an ironclad guarantee that you will one day lose the use of whatever music or movies or whatever you’re buying… You can get the stuff, illegally, for free. And the free copies won’t have DRM on them. And they won’t break on future hardware.

The essential value proposition of DRM is “give us money instead of no money for an unambiguously inferior product.” And that’s a hard sell, really.

People who have ignored DRM and just sold stuff have done really well at it. When I buy music from places that don’t use DRM on it, I get high quality music that I know I will be able to keep listening to on future hardware. So I buy it happily. The warez versions are no longer superior products; they might be as-good, but I’d rather pay artists than not, given the choice.

But I’m not willing to pay more for a product that just plain sucks. And DRM just plain sucks.

… Which is to say, no, I don’t have the complete My Little Pony series in HD video. Because it’s only available with DRM on it. Eventually it’ll come out on media, at which point I can buy the media and rip the video to a usable, safe, format.

Peter Seebach