I love DRM!

Well no, of course not. But I don’t hate it any more than some other of life’s annoyances. DRM assumes that I, their paying customer, am determined to steal from them. But how about ink tags on clothing, video cameras in department stores, and tire shredders in rental car lots? All those are annoyances based on the assumption that the customer is trying to steal. If DRM becomes a major annoyance, it can drive customers away.

Take Sony’s root kit DRM on audio CD’s. The obvious conclusion was that to protect your PC from damage, stay away from Sony music. Even after they repented, the damage to their reputation was done. Who knows how much long term business they lost? Surely many times the amount of piracy their root kits prevented.

In 2002 Intuit decided to add copy protection to TurboTax using product activation. I had been a loyal customer for many years who never would have considered switching. For the last several years I had been using TurboTax under the Win4Lin virtual machine on Linux, which was convenient because all my records were on Linux. But Intuit’s product activation wouldn’t work under virtualization. So I’d have to repeatedly reboot every time I needed to look up another piece of information. So I switched to H&R Block’s TaxCut. Even after Intuit repented it took a few years before I felt like putting in the effort to switch back again. Other people had plenty of other troubles with Intuit’s product activation, and they lost customers and reputation.

But Apple’s DRM on iTunes – you know, the one that Steve Jobs dislikes – that DRM isn’t so bad. Yes, I understand that it locks me into iPod, but that’s only a minor annoyance to me. And I realize the potential for Apple to suddenly render all my purchased music unplayable, as Google did for its movie customers. If that happened it would of course be a major annoyance, but I think it’s very unlikely. I trust Apple. It would be against their interests to close iTunes. And whereas Google’s videos die when Google shuts down their server, Apple music would remain playable without the iTunes store – unless Apple deliberately pushed out an iTunes software update with self-destruct.

iTunes wins on price over a CD for a single song. Its restrictions of 5 computers and 7 copies of a playlist burned to CD don’t seem at all onerous to me. And they not only allow backups, they make them easy. If I want a whole CD though, the physical CD wins because it’s about the same price with no DRM and no restrictions. And emusic wins on price and lack of restrictions.

For movies iTunes is much more convenient than DVD’s. Prices of movies are about the same for both. iTunes DRM is much less intrusive than the DRM on DVD’s. Although the DRM on DVD’s is trivial to break, some people believe that the Digital Millenium Copyright Act makes it illegal to break it, even for your own fair use of movies that you purchased. Scratch a DVD and you’re out $20 with no backups. You can only watch it on your TV or Windows PC, and no mobile use.

Buy the same movie from iTunes, and if anything happens to it you just restore from backup. You can watch it on your TV – any TV actually since an iPod is easier to carry around than a DVD player. You can watch it anywhere on your iPod. And you can watch it on your Windows or Mac PC.

Bottom line: what value will they sell me for what price versus their competition? DRM is negative value, but depending on how well or badly it’s done it doesn’t necessarily make a product worthless.



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