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Explaining DRM to a Less-Experienced PC User? 195

An anonymous reader asks: "I have a question for Slashdot users eager for a challenge. How would one explain – at a casual level – the concept of, and problems with, DRM to someone who is competent using a computer, but with little technical knowledge?"
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Explaining DRM to a Less-Experienced PC User?

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 31, 2006 @09:53PM (#16021057)
    That is all.
  • Simple (Score:5, Insightful)

    by orthogonal ( 588627 ) on Thursday August 31, 2006 @10:15PM (#16021187) Journal
    "You don't get to choose when and how to use what you've paid for."

    "Someone else gets to decide when and how you can play music you bought, watch the movies you're bought, play the games that you've paid for."
  • by laughingcoyote ( 762272 ) <barghesthowl@e x c> on Thursday August 31, 2006 @10:16PM (#16021197) Journal

    To date, I have not seen anything approaching a casual description of DRM.

    I'm not sure that's necessarily so. While I use Linux and will not use encumbered media (at least none on which I can't trivially break the "locks", and even then I avoid it as much as possible) most of the less geek-oriented people I know will eventually run into trouble with it...and then they ask me for my help. At this point, you can give them a few basics (lock-in, not wanting things copied, etc.) However, what they inevitably take away from these discussions is exactly what I'd hope:

    DRM is what is causing my problem.

    At that point, they lump it in with all the other things which cause problems even though they don't have a full technical understanding of what they are. This particular heap also includes viruses, spyware, adware, and good things like that-exactly the classification DRM belongs in.

  • by Atario ( 673917 ) on Thursday August 31, 2006 @10:33PM (#16021285) Homepage
    "DRM is a complicated bunch of technical crap that might be tacked on to music, videos, etc., which is designed to keep you from doing what you feel like you should be able to do."

    Feel free to submit proposed revisions.
  • Simple (Score:5, Insightful)

    by sterno ( 16320 ) on Thursday August 31, 2006 @10:36PM (#16021300) Homepage
    It's actually not that hard. Imagine if you bought a car and the car had a key that only you could use. So if you wanted to loan the car to a friend, he couldn't use it. When you wanted to sell the car, you wouldn't be able to sell the car either because it wouldn't work for anybody else. It would work fine for you, but the moment your wife needed to drive it, too bad.

    That's DRM in a nutshell. It's actually worse than that but the metaphor degrades somewhat beyond that.
  • It's easy! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by kimvette ( 919543 ) on Thursday August 31, 2006 @10:38PM (#16021316) Homepage Journal
    See this CD you bought? You own it. You can make backups of it. You can lend it to a friend. You can make mix CDs for your car. You can make copies for any MP3 player you buy. If your car/mp3 player/etc./and/or CD gets stolen, you can make another MP3 and you can listen to your backup. If you get sick of it you can sell it to someone else who will appreciate it.

    See this Napster/Sony/Microsoft/FooDRM media file you "bought?" You do not own it. You cannot make backups. If your PC/Phone/MP3 player dies, so does your music. You cannot lend it to a friend. You cannot make mix CDs for your car. If you upgrade your MP3 player, you may have to "buy" it again. If your MP3 player/PC/etc. is stolen or dies, you also lose your music. If you get sick of the DRM'd music you "bought" you cannot resell it to someone else who will appreciate it. You "bought" nothing.
  • Re:Simplistic (Score:4, Insightful)

    by tomstdenis ( 446163 ) < minus punct> on Thursday August 31, 2006 @10:46PM (#16021364) Homepage
    That's like putting innocent people in prison because someone may violate the law.

    DRM takes away your rights and freedoms to protect against the minority who would infringe on their [producers] rights.

    The very real fact is that the government grants you copyright protection which INCLUDES fair use. DRM is a way of abusing the monopoly of copyright without honouring the other side of the deal. In all honesty, DRM applied to copyrighted works should be illegal. It isn't. Hmm, I wonder why that is...

  • MOD PARENT UP (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Schraegstrichpunkt ( 931443 ) on Thursday August 31, 2006 @11:05PM (#16021436) Homepage

    DVDs are exactly the kind of thing to use to explain DRM to the general public. Start with skipping commercials, and then move on to region coding, CSS, Macrovision (I couldn't transfer my old VHS tapes to DVD using a $200 VCR/DVDRW machine because it mistakes a bad-quality tape for the Macrovision signal distortion), etc.

  • by lmpeters ( 892805 ) on Thursday August 31, 2006 @11:37PM (#16021589)

    Change "you feel like you should be able to do" to "you should be able to do". There is no reason the technology should prevent you from doing any of those things. Thus, the sentence becomes:

    "DRM is a complicated bunch of technical crap that might be tacked on to music, videos, etc., which is designed to keep you from doing what you should be able to do."

    It might be worth mentioning that it allows producers to get higher profits by selling an inferior product, if the person you're explaining it to asks why producers would want such a thing.

  • by Phillup ( 317168 ) on Friday September 01, 2006 @12:00AM (#16021696)

    But you can make it even shorter...

    DRM is what keeps you from doing everything you want to do.

    End of story.
  • by cgenman ( 325138 ) on Friday September 01, 2006 @12:10AM (#16021744) Homepage
    Imagine a bookstore that has all the books you could ever want. Now imagine that when you buy a book, it remains forever chained to a desk in that bookstore. You can come back and visit it, but you can never take it out of the bookstore. If the bookstore closes or moves, your books go away with it.

  • by dr.badass ( 25287 ) on Friday September 01, 2006 @12:43AM (#16021870) Homepage
    The challenge of this question is coming up with a description of the "problems" of DRM that actually sound like problems to "less-experienced users".

    If you tell someone "When you buy from music from iTunes, you'll only be able to play it on all of your computers, all of your iPods, and all of your CD players.", chances are they aren't going to understand just how "obviously" oppressive and stifling that is.
  • by Pinback ( 80041 ) on Friday September 01, 2006 @01:32AM (#16022078) Homepage Journal
    DRM is ripping movies you bought so you can skip the FBI warning.

    DRM is ripping music you bought so it works on the player they don't want it to.

    DRM is downloading a crack for software you bought, so you don't have register it.

    DRM is changing a CMOS bit so your wireless card works in a system it isn't type accepted for.

    Anything you have to break to make it work is DRM.
  • by fuzzybunny ( 112938 ) on Friday September 01, 2006 @02:04AM (#16022172) Homepage Journal
    I would use the following definition, or a variant thereof: "DRM is the name given to technology used by the people who sell you digital content to control how, when and where you view/listen, store or copy that content. It includes laws to make it illegal for you to get around those controls." Beyond that, don't bother explaining, show them what it is and how it works, read on:

    In years of trying to make my girlfriend, who is a strategy consultant and all-around pretty competent 'business' PC user (i.e. knows her way around Windows reasonably well, knows end-user apps, etc.) and a very bright person, I couldn't get her to care ("I buy all my music/films".)

    What'd it take for her to understand why this is important and to listen to me on how it works? Well, we're spending a year on another continent and all of a sudden, her DVDs don't work in the player in our furnished apartment. Oops. Boy, was she pissed. Boy, did she want to know how it worked, why it sucked and how to get around it all of a sudden.

    Same with why Windows is broken ("but it just works for what I want to do.") Until it didn't "just work." Same with data privacy ("I don't have anything to hide") until someone stole her credit card number.

    The phrase you need to remember is "show me the money" or, in consulting terminology, "where's the 'so what'?" Most people won't care or give a rat's ass until it affects them directly.
  • by carpeweb ( 949895 ) on Friday September 01, 2006 @02:28AM (#16022250) Journal
    Well, I certainly agree with the upmods, but this hardly makes the explanation more casual.

    Yes, the technology and the law are both somewhat complicated to the uninitiated, but the casual explanation is:

    DRM is about restricting the ability to copy, transmit and execute digital media. Pro-DRM forces want the sellers of digital works to have as much power as possible to limit copying, transmission and execution by those who buy the works. Anti-DRM forces want the purchasers of digital works to have as much freedom as possible to copy, transmit and use the works in any time, place or manner of their choosing. The responsible anti-DRM forces recognize that such freedom should extend only to "fair use" as traditionally defined in copyright law.

    Oh, and the pro-DRM forces and the anti-DRM forces really don't get along ...
  • by NetRAVEN5000 ( 905777 ) on Friday September 01, 2006 @02:31AM (#16022261) Homepage
    With DRM the company you "bought" it from has a say in what you can and can't do with it. If they have a deal with Microsoft, you can't listen to your music on a PC with MacOS or Linux (or anything else, for that matter) unless you download a hack, and you also won't be able to listen to it on your iPod or any other device that doesn't use MS software or hardware.

    That means that if you buy a CD with MS' DRM, you won't be able to listen on it on: - many CD players, including those built into stereos (car and home) - most DVD players with CD playing capabilities - your iPod, or any or a wide range of other MP3 players, again including those built into expensive stereos (both car and home) - your Mac or Linux PC - your PS/PS2/PS3/PSP / GameCube/Wii / any other non-Xbox game system - regardless of whether or not it has multimedia capabilities.

    Note that all of these devices you paid good money for. You also paid good money for the music; however, the music requires you to buy new devices. Why? Simply because the maker of the device didn't pay for the music company's DRM. Maybe they couldn't afford it, maybe it only supported certain media codecs, but most likely because that form of DRM wasn't invented yet - meaning that any device made before the DRM is 100% incompatible with any media that uses that form of DRM.

    But perhaps the biggest problem with DRM is that it solves nothing. Pirates can still hack the DRM and sell cheap copies, or make them available online -- and any true pirate not only knows how, but is completely comfortable with doing this. It's no sweat off the pirate's back - they can simply download a tool off the Internet (or program their own) to get rid of the DRM. It doesn't matter how tough the DRM is, the pirates will find a way around it - it's their job.

    So in short, DRM is a way for media companies to force you to pay more and buy only from them and their partners.

  • DRM is sugar cubes (Score:3, Insightful)

    by SmallFurryCreature ( 593017 ) on Friday September 01, 2006 @02:45AM (#16022303) Journal
    Sugar cubes wich you cannot grind up and use as regular sugar because it is forbidden. Neither can you use them after they have been on the shelve for two months because that is forbidden. You can't put them in your tea you are drinking out of an old jam jar because that is forbidden. You can't made your own tea blend because that is forbidden. You most certainly can't use them in class-room chem experiments like making it burn (example of catalysts), because, you guessed it that is forbidden. Horses will just have to chased down before riding instead of attracted by the lure of a sugarcube.

    Who forbids it? Why the company that sold you the sugar cubes offcourse. Why do you have to obey them? Because DRM tells you too and if you do not you go to jail for longer then for rape or murder.

    That is DRM. It is like trusted computing, wich really means, we don't trust you computing. DRM and Trusted computing are about the seller telling the buyer what he can do with the product. This is a totally new idea.

    As said, nobody on the world would think of it to suggest that a sugar cube wich is clearly designed to be put into hot drinks cannot be used in any other way as the buyer sees fit. I can literally do anything with the sugar cubes I buy that I want with the only hindrance that the act may not be against the normal law. The seller has NOTHING whatsoever to say about it.

  • Re:The point? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Lussarn ( 105276 ) on Friday September 01, 2006 @05:42AM (#16022790)
    No, by building a more transparent, vibrant and open market we are protecting the consumers (by not building monopolies). I couldn't care less how the market worked if it in the end was the best for the consumers.

    I don't understand why the market has to be in such a lock-in when it comes to DRM media. As an example I fly RC helicopters and in that bussines everybody is copying everybody. I'm not even talking about lookalikes, I'm talking about verbatim copying of parts and even complete helicopters (The same also happens in the car industry). In the end I as a comsumer benifit from this because it gives me lower prices and a wider range of choice from parts, pricelevels and even which company to buy from.

    When it comes to DRM media I should benifit of none of the powers of free trade because it doesn't exist there.
  • Re:The point? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Lussarn ( 105276 ) on Friday September 01, 2006 @07:02AM (#16022955)
    The place where anti-competitive practices occur is not at the distributor level

    Apple has about 90% of the portable player market (in America), it's probably safe to asume they have about 90% of the market for music online also. Apple was able to strike a deal with the companies to sell music online for the iPod. No other company have been able to do that. Apple has unfair advantage because of DRM.

    Remove DRM from the equation and there'd still be many of the same problems we see today, only with copyright law being used in the place of DRM, which is a whole different can of worms.

    I would much rather have clear rules on what's legal than to sign a contract for every purchace i make, altough the signing part is of course not part of writing contracts anymore.

    I don't thnk removing DRM would change the market in an instant (The media companies are having trouble adjusting to the internet), but as it is now it's so completely tied up from producers to distributors and consumers. I can not list one single market except the online music business where every single item they sell cost exactly the same. That's not a functional market.
  • by computational super ( 740265 ) on Friday September 01, 2006 @08:58AM (#16023359)


    DRM is what keeps you from doing everything you paid to do.

  • DRM could be fair. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by hey! ( 33014 ) on Friday September 01, 2006 @09:13AM (#16023414) Homepage Journal
    "You don't get to choose when and how to use what you've paid for."

    That's very close to what I would have come up with.

    I think one of the confusing things about these kinds of debates is that the pro and anti side focus on the intended or feared consequences. Thus, both sides tend to talke past each other. You've made a succinct statement of the anti-side's view. The pro side would put it this way:

    "People won't be able to steal movies and music and resell them."

    The problem with planning for the future is unintended consequences, both of action and inaction. Particularly with technology, where details of design and implementation may have dire consequences. I am not necessarily against DRM on moral principle, so much as I know the one sided and therefore half-baked schemes will be a large scale disaster for society at large.

    Every decision that is taken should have a sheet divided in half, one half for intended consequences, the other for unintended consequenes.

    Intended Consequences:
    (a) Companies purchasing copyrights can recoup the value of those rights, and in turn artists can be paid more.
    (b) Keep existing business models viable.
    (c) Create new business models around electronic distribution.

    Unintended Consequences (examples):
    (a) When DVDs become obsolete, all the DVD movies you've bought are useless.
    (b) You may not be able to move your purchased works to new media when your original media is getting damaged. This is major for libraries.
    (c) People will no longer be able to quote passages from books and other works for critical, educational or satirical purposes.
    (d) Schemes that try to give you more flexibilty may fail if the company you bought the material from goes out of business. This means you won't be able to use the stuff you bought.
    (e) If a DRM scheme becomes obsolete, very quickly all the works protected by that scheme will become unreadable, possibly causing them to be lost forever.
    (f) You won't be able to copy a work when its copyright expires and you are legally entitled to do so. Some DRM schemes amount to a perpetual copyright, which is against the intent of the Constitution and all copyright precedent.
    (g) To make some visions of DRM work, your player might phone home to the company, which compromises your privacy. Companies have a voracious appetite for information about consumer behavior, so it's only a matter of time before this is put back on the table. What you do with a work after you buy it is none of their business, unless it's something infringing on their rights.
    (h) You may not be able to buy movies and music at all; companies could force you to enter into a relationship with them, and they will broker all your use of DRM protected works. You can add the record company, the movie company and the book company to the list of companies you are forced to have a relationship with if you don't want to live like a cave man: the telephone company, the cable company, the power company etc.

    Naturally, I think the potential downsides of DRM greatly outweigh its benefits. But it's important to remember that all these dystopic scenarios are potential results. They are not logically inevitable results of any DRM, they're just probable results of likely DRM schemes.

    If we add a stipulation to DRM that preserves the status quo, I think it DRM becomes a lot less obnoxious:

    Definition: A "Fair" DRM is a system which enforces a copyright holder's traditional legal rights, does not extend them in time or any other way, does not restrict the legally recognized rights of consumers purchasing copyrighted materials, and does not force consumers to accept an ongoing contractual relationship with the copyright holder or its agents.

    You could still enter into a relationship with, say, the music utility to send them a monthly check in return for access to their library. But the DRM scheme should not force you to accept this business model, it sh

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