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marmoset's Journal: DRM Rant

Journal by marmoset

I have just wasted an entire f*#@king half hour of my life dealing with the integral, absolute oafishness of what the content cartel euphemistically calls Digital Rights Management. I wish they'd get over themselves and call this stuff by its true name: Master Control. That, after all, is the end goal of all of these media playback restriction technologies. Any use of digital media outside of the purview of its corporate copyright holder is disallowed. The further problem is that there is no natural one-to-one mapping between what the corporations want and the way that raw, digital data actually functions in a real-world computer. In other words, they're just as likely to keep their precious content from working for legitimate customers as they are from Dread Pirate Napster.

It's been said that "information wants to be free", but too often this phrase is misused and misinterpreted by people who ought to know better. What it means (to me) is that it is the very nature of encoded bits on a physical medium (hard drive, optical disk, RAM) to be easily copyable. Remember that at their base level, computers are only capable of a couple of things -- performing mathematical operations on numbers very quickly and moving that data around rapidly. Computers, by their nature, reallyreally want to move data around faithfully (i.e. without mangling bits in transit) and any scheme you devise to hamper this will be, by very definition, an unnatural kludge. In short, DRM is doomed to, basically, Always Fuck Up.

I'd really like to hear the new Missy Elliot single. I thought "Get Ur Freak On" was the best single released in 2001. Unfortunately, the only "legitimate" (i.e. legally sanctioned) way to get this single onto my computer right now is by downloading a 30-day time-limited WMA file. Already, alarm bells are going off. To say that Windows Media anything on a Macintosh is sketchy is a dramatic understatement. The plugin is dicey even in Internet Explorer, and of course, is completely nonfunctional in Mozilla and Chimera. The application itself is a truly barebones affair, the only time I bother with it is with content that is available in no other format. My first attempt at downloading the track, from Mozilla, fails utterly, as the web page that links to it depends on IE-only markup. Even in IE, I have to manually download the .wma file, since the auto-downloading mechanism doesn't work. Once I have the file downloaded to my desktop, IE launched Windows Media Player, which, which... does absolutely nothing. Fine, I say, and quit the application. I double click the icon of the .wma file, and Windows Media Player opens. It then opens a web page in my default browser, which happens to be Mozilla. It opens a web page that tells me that my I have been granted a 30-day license to play the file. Except that something blew up and Windows Media Player shut itself down. I double click the .wma file again, and it opens another window in Mozilla with the license grant message. Uh-oh. Swearing under my breath, I switch my default web browser to IE, and double click the .wma file again. This time, Internet Explorer launches and opens to the license grant page, except with an extra icon on the page that says "click here" to play the song. I click there, and Windows Media Player shuts down. I say loudly, "Screw you very much", and go do something else.

What really slays me is that they expect consumers to put up with this horseshit. Are teenagers going to bother with all the nonsense I just did? Or are they just going to fire up Kazaa or Limewire or something and download a file that will play correctly, the very first time, on their computer, their portable music player, and which they can even burn onto a CD if they like? Maybe they'll just turn off the stereo and go play a couple hours worth of GTA3 or Warcraft III, or go watch a DVD.

Addendum: I just double clicked the .wma file again, for giggles. It opens a blank, black window in Windows Media Player, and proceeds to play 4:26 of 96 kbps encoded silence. It does, however, helpfully display Elektra Records copyright information and the words "Protected Content" along the bottom of the window.

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DRM Rant

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