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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 yagu ( 721525 ) * <> on Thursday August 31, 2006 @09:48PM (#16021025) Journal

    This topic has been kicked around by

    • our government
    • RIAA
    • Microsoft, and others
    • MPAA
    • SONY, and others
    • slashdot, and others

    To date, I have not seen anything approaching a casual description of DRM. In fact, I've seen mostly confusion about and around it. If I were trying to explain to the uninitiated, I would take the tack of describing anything DRM'ed as potentially unusable on one or more devices you own. The fact there is so much turbulence swirling around DRM is an indicator how it hasn't gelled.

    Actually I've tried to explain to casual users. For example, I tell Tivo users (who can be extremely passionate) programs on their "Now Showing" list would not be guaranteed to stay around for as long as necessary to be viewed; or may not be viewable more than once; or may be "eaten" as they're viewed, leaving the ability to backtrack and rewatch segments no longer allowed. That usually gets them going.

    For CD listeners, I describe CDs that may or may not play on their computer, but are extremely likely to fail on any older CD player, in their car, or in their home entertainment system.

    The more I can drive home with examples what DRM looks and feels like, the more I find a spark in the unitiateds' eyes. They don't like it even when only getting a sense of DRM. They don't like it at all.

    I think that DRM can't be described casually, and is so amazingly complex, confusing, and potentially onerous lends even more amazement it could ever be allowed to be implemented.

  • by BrokenHalo ( 565198 ) on Thursday August 31, 2006 @10:08PM (#16021148)
    I would just explain DRM in terms of something to be got around (so long as we're not advocating doing anything stupid like being an idiot on peer-to-peer). If the person is a competent computer user, you're already off to a head start...
  • by MobiusRenoire ( 931476 ) on Thursday August 31, 2006 @10:09PM (#16021152)
    Most subjects are as hard as you make them out to be.

    DRM is simply a compromise. You compromise your ability to freely copy and store your digital materials. Depending on the severity of the DRM, the owner of the media/IP could be compromising their "assurance", let's say, that purchasers of their product won't distribute the product to non-purchasers.

    In the same vein as supply and demand, your want or "need" for said media dictates how much you're willing to compromise your rights in order to use the media just as the producer's belief in the demand for the product dictates the magnitude of the lock-down under which they place the product.
  • Pop in a random DVD (Score:3, Interesting)

    by guruevi ( 827432 ) <`moc.stiucricve' `ta' `ive'> on Thursday August 31, 2006 @10:17PM (#16021207) Homepage
    Pop in a random DVD in their player and let them (try to) skip the ads, the "you don't steal a dvd"-ad, the FBI warnings, the previews and then when you stop the movie for any reason, the fact that you have to watch that crap all over again.

    if($subject == devotechristian) {
                  include "american pie" . $previews

    Then tell them it will only get worse and that DVD was just a begin. Or tell $random_audiophile he won't be able to make back up copies of his "high quality master"...
  • House Analogy (Score:4, Interesting)

    by gbobeck ( 926553 ) on Thursday August 31, 2006 @10:21PM (#16021220) Homepage Journal
    I have attempted in the past to explain DRM to my parents by using an analogy based on a house. I know house/lock/weaponry analogies tend to fail rather quickly, however, it strantely worked with my non-tech parents.

    I have included a rough transcript of the analogy below.


    For our purposes, we have a digital file, which is represented by a house.
    We have digital rights management (DRM), which is represented by an elaborite door and lock system which is operated by a rather burly doorman.

    Now for the cases...
    Case 1: You own the house and the doorman is under your control.
    (This is similar to you creating a document and applying your own DRM to it.)

    You are the owner of the house. You can tell the doorman to keep people out completely, to let certian people in so that they can see your model train collection in the basement, to let certian people open your refrigerator and take a beer... what ever you want, when you want.

    Case 2: You rent the house, but the doorman lets you do what you want
    (You get a document and the terms of usage are unlimited.)

    You may rent the house, but the doorman lets you do anything you want.

    Case 3: You rent the house, but the doorman has strict orders on what you can do
    (You get a document with moderate DRM)

    You are a tennant, but you can't repaint the walls. The doorman, unknown to you, has been forbidden to let your friends drink your beer.

    Case 4: You rent the house, but you have no control.
    (You get a document with extreme DRM)

    You live at the house, but the doorman can do anything he wants to you. Whenever you put beer in the frige, the doorman is the only person allowed to drink it. You are allowed a dog, but the doorman only allows it to poop in your bedroom. Occasionally, you wakeup and the entire place is redecorated by the landlord. You want to move, but the contract you signed prevents it until a replacement house is built.
  • they don't care (Score:3, Interesting)

    by rizzo420 ( 136707 ) on Thursday August 31, 2006 @10:42PM (#16021339) Homepage Journal
    the less experience pc user generally doesn't care about DRM. they care only that they can listen to their music (or watch movies or whatever) in the way it was meant to be, which to them is many times on the ipod (which is the reason i don't consider apple to be any better than microsoft). they can listen to their itunes downloaded songs on their ipod and they don't really care about using it in any other way.

    i work in a college. i have student employees. they just don't care. but here's where they do care. we have ruckus, which is drm'd wma files. they don't like that they can't play them on their ipod and consider it to be a fault of ruckus (granted, they have to buy a subscription to play it on a supported playsforsure player, of which the ipod is not one of them, but that's apple's fault, not ruckus's). they think it's stupid. they also don't like that they technically (although we found this to be untrue) cannot even listen to the music without a valid subscription (which is free during hte school year and costs money during the summer). but they don't care about their apple itunes drm... go figure.

    so there's almost no point in trying to explain it to them because they just don't care.
  • by bigbigbison ( 104532 ) on Thursday August 31, 2006 @11:47PM (#16021643) Homepage
    Since this was on boingboing, I'd be surprised if someone didn't mention this already. There's a children's book that explains DRM [].
  • The point? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Bongo Bill ( 853669 ) on Friday September 01, 2006 @12:04AM (#16021714) Homepage
    In my experience, your normal user (i.e. not Slashdot readers, i.e. 99% of people, i.e. people who can't be made to foam at the mouth over anything tech-related, i.e. people with normal priorities) cares about one thing: does it work the way they expect it to?

    If a person buys a song off of iTMS, then their expectation is that they'll be able to play it on their iPod and in iTunes. For this reason, it would be pointless to "educate" the user about the DRM - because they don't care that they can't use it with non-iPod, non-iTunes modes of playback. It's about as likely to get them to care about DRM as it is to get them to care that they can't play VHS tapes in a DVD player.

    In general, people aren't stupid - even if they don't understand computers, they can still understand basic consumer skills. If a vendor of DRM'd software explains what the terms of the DRM are, and the user pays for it anyway, then it means that the user has no problem with buying a limited product. A DRM'd file is not a broken file, however much the Slashdot crowd may disagree. The file does exactly what it says it would do. The user doesn't care about being able to convert it to a different format, doesn't care about being able to send it to a different computer, doesn't care about what happens to the file when it goes into the public domain. The user has no problem accepting files that you can't do these things to, because the user never wanted to do any of those things anyway, and the user was never led to believe that any of these things would be possible. The user is not being cheated, any more than you'd be cheated if you had bought a copy of a single-player game, and was shocked to discover that it does not feature a multiplayer mode.

    So, we can clearly see that the point of this exercise is not to convince average users that DRM is Evil and that the vendors of DRM'd software are trying to cheat them. This raises the next question: what is the purpose of "educating" non-tech users about DRM? Is it just for the purpose of creating market forces that will enable us to buy non-DRM'd music (even if it costs more)? Is it an attempt to create a grass-roots resistance against the encroachment on technology rights by whatever government-controlling conspiracy it's popular to believe in this week, who no doubt want to make unlicensed software of any variety illegal? I'm not seeing it, here.

  • by quentin_quayle ( 868719 ) <quentin_quayle&yahoo,com> on Friday September 01, 2006 @02:10AM (#16022193)

    Refer them to a video [].

    From the page:

    ZDNet Executive Editor David Berlind suggests that CRAP or Content, Restriction, Annulment, and Protection, is a catchier phrase than DRM - Digital Rights Management. Why does he think this technology is crap? Once you've bought music or other content to play on one device, it won't play on any other device because of the proprietary layer of CRAP.

    This was torrented a while back. Maybe someone will put it on Youtube. It is quite funny and makes the point well.

  • by pain ( 18144 ) on Friday September 01, 2006 @10:30AM (#16023848) Journal

    Don't know if this has been mentioned here before.

    There is a very nice book written for kids with great illustrations available at "The pig and the box" [].

    from the page: The Pig and the Box is about a pig who finds a magic box that can replicate anything you put into it. The pig becomes so protective of it, and so suspicious of anyone that wants to use it, that he makes people take their copied items home in special buckets that act as... well, they're basically DRM. It's like a fable, except the moral of the story is very modern in tone.

    a funny read :-)

BLISS is ignorance.