Once Upon a Time, in DRM Land

When his defense asked,”Which computer has Jon [DVD Jon] trespassed upon?” the answer was: “His own.”

Once upon a time there was a man named Frank. Frank was just like any other Frank, albeit a bit more cynical and curious. Frank was walking through the park one day when he happened upon a curious sight of a glowing doorway. Being curious, he investigated this curious phenomenon with infinite impetuosity. Unbeknownst to him, this doorway led to the future. The sights he beheld on the other side of this time warp doorway continued to pique his innate curiosity. Frank wanted to know what was going on at the other side of this door and he quietly slid through it.

Frank was astounded at what he saw. There were no cars on the road. People were walking everywhere. He grabbed a newspaper that blew slowly past him on the wind and was surprised that the date was 10 years ahead of the date he saw in his morning newspaper. Frank quickly came to terms with what had just happened…he had found a doorway through time which propelled him 10 years into the future.

He sat down on a bench with millions of thoughts whizzing through his brain. Questions began popping in his thoughts. He decided to investigate this future world so that he could find out where society was headed.

Frank quickly located someone walking by, stood up and asked the question, “Excuse me but, I don’t see any vehicles, why is that?”

The person looked at Frank with wide eyes and said, “Well, no one uses vehicles anymore since the RM Movement restricts types that can be used in different regions of the country”

“RM Movement?”

“Yes, Rights Management Movement. A few years ago, the Digital Rights Management act was passed which allowed for the regulation of consumers right to use digital media as they saw fit in the privacy of their own home. This paved the way for the Rights Management Act to go into effect a few years later.”

“But I don’t understand…this is America right? There’s no way we could restrict rights like this.”

The person responded in kind, “It was much easier when the Patriot Act became permanent.”

Frank pondered the point a minute and asked, “But this still doesn’t explain where the vehicles went!”

“Well, yes it does. With Rights Management, vehicle manufacturers required that you register the vehicle with them and buy a license to operate that vehicle on top of the operators license the government has. This license limits you to drive their cars in certain areas of the United States. This is one of those areas. For example, you can’t drive Fords in Kentucky since its region code is a 2, which is for Chevy’s only.”

“Region codes?” Frank interrupted. “You mean like DVD’s?”

“Yes, region codes like DVDs…although Blu-Ray and HD-DVD antiquated the region requirement for media, automotive manufacturers picked up the region idea from DVDs. The US has been divided up into regions where rights are managed according to physical location. Companies purchase rights in these different regions through the government so that their products can be sold and used in these regions.”

“But how can they expect to tell me what to do with something that I BOUGHT?” Frank exclaimed

“Well, they started it with Digital Rights Management. DVD’s and Music were first and since these are just creative works…the Rights Management spread to other creative works. Since an automobile is just a product of manufacture like a computer or DVD player the line was blurred as to how much control companies could put on their products. With the DRM Act, you couldn’t play a DVD on any player other than the ones approved of by that DVD company…they regulated where and how you could play it”

“But that’ s idiotic” Frank said, “I bought the stinkin’ thing, I should be able to do whatever I want with it after I buy it. If I want to use it as a Frisbee or drive it off a cliff, I should be able to do so!”

“With the DRM and RM Acts, you can’t. The company reserves the right to have you use their product the way they intended it to be used.”

“But doesn’t this stifle creativity?” Frank asked. “Doesn’t this limit things considerably? For example, Post Its would never have been invented because they used an adhesive that was already available right? So that would have been illegal because the adhesive wasn’t being used in the right way and if 3M didn’t own the adhesive..”

“Well,” the person responded, “if Post Its had been invented after this act and 3M didn’t own the adhesive, I guess they’d have been outlawed…but since it happened before, they slip past regulation.”

Frank was perplexed. How could this happen in today’s society. What had happened? This Rights Management thing sounded absolutely asinine to him yet to the person he was speaking with was obviously telling him “how it was”.

The person shrugged at Frank and moved on toward their destination. Frank was again confused at the prospect of having this much control enacted on citizens in a free society. He decided to investigate further. He noticed a row of small businesses or restaurants just down the street. He quickly walked into a small bookstore. Frank began thumbing through a couple of books looking for information on this Rights Management Act that he could read about.

“Can I help you?” said a voice from behind him.

“Yes,” replied Frank. “I’m looking for information about the Rights Management and Digital Rights Management Acts.”

The woman replied, “Oh, those will be plentiful…let’s go find you some good ones.” She pointed over toward a section of books. Frank eventually found all the books that he might need with information on these subjects. He brought his books up to the counter and the woman rang his purchases up.

“That will be $35.87.” Frank gave her two twenty dollar bills. The woman handed him a small stack of papers. “Please sign the license agreement.”

The look on Frank’s face must have told the woman enough because she automatically began to explain, “The license agreement is between you, the publisher, and the author of the works you are purchasing. Basically, what it does is regulate how you can use these books. For instance, you can’t loan this book to a friend after you buy it because that would be against the law. You also can’t resell these books online or anywhere else for that matter…you are required to be licensed in order to sell these books. All of this is covered in the books you’re purchasing about the Rights Management and Digital Rights Management Acts.”

Frank quickly asked, “Why can’t I lend this book to a friend? What if someone in my house wants to read it? You mean to tell me I can’t let them read it or I’ll face fines?”

“Not fines, jail time. The MPAA and RIAA lobbied for stricter penalties for sharing music and movies to discourage that sharing. Since these two areas received stiffer penalties the idea spread over to books which are similar to music and movies being works of art and creativity. I guess with digital books becoming quite popular they just needed a ‘catch all’ so this license agreement was born. Books in print and e-books just fell into place along with music and movies.”

Frank’s jaw hit the floor. Here he was being told that he couldn’t lend a book…a book that he purchased…to a friend. He couldn’t go online to half.com or amazon and sell his book after he was done reading it. This kind of control was stifling. It reminded him much of socialist economies he read about in Economics class…but this was the United States wasn’t it? This crap couldn’t fly right?

“What if I don’t want to sign the license agreement?”

“No books I’m afraid. I can’t afford to be brought up on charges of selling a book without the license agreement”

“Why do you do it anyway?” Frank asked. “Doesn’t this go against the proliferation of reading and books?”

“Well, I get a cut of the profit the publisher and author make so not only do I get back cost of the book, but I also get part of the license fee” the woman replied.

Frank stumbled out of the bookstore. He knew things were bad with Digital Rights Management in his time but in this time 10 years in the future, things were downright horrible. He stumbled in the the media shop next door expecting to be waylaid by discoveries within.

“Can I help you?” the young counter clerk said to Frank.

“Not unless you can purge RM from the earth,” Frank mumbled.

“Excuse me? I didn’t catch that”

“Nevermind, I’ve actually come in to buy a movie,” Frank lied, attempting to see how far down the rabbit hole he could go. “What do you have for action/adventure?”

“Well sir, that entire section over there is Action/Adventure. What format are you looking for? VOD? Blu-Ray? HD-DVD?

“Gee, uh…VOD? What’s that?”

Video on demand sir. We can set you up with an account right here and then you’ll be able to download the movie to your computer or media center and watch the movie right there.”

Frank skeptically looked at the clerk. “So what’s the catch?”

“Catch sir?”

“Yes, catch. What limitations do I have with the movie?”

“Oh, right sir. The movie can only be watched on a single PC. You can’t remove that video from your PC under penalty of law. You’ll also have to agree to this license agreement stating so.”

Bingo, Frank thought. “So, I can’t ‘rent’ a VOD and watch it anywhere? I am limited to my PC?”

“Yes sir.”

“I can’t watch it at a friend’s house?”

“No sir…unless you physically bring the computer to your friends house”

What kind of sense does that make, Frank thought. “Ok, say I want Blu-Ray. What limitations do I have?”

“You have to have a Blu-Ray compatible device to play the disc and you have to have a television that supports HDCP.”

“How much are those?” Frank Wondered aloud.

“Well sir, they’re relatively inexpensive and just think of them as an investment.”

Frank had heard enough. It wasn’t enough for these DRM people to control where he could watch things, how he could watch them, if he could use the disc as a coaster or Frisbee or not…but they are telling him he had to purchase an approved device to watch them on?

“Well, thanks. I’m going to have to think about it,” Frank said as he exited the store.

Frank began to sprint back toward the park looking frantically for the doorway he walked through previously. Luckily, he found it and walked back through. The door sealed itself behind him. He took with him only one thing: A new found respect for freedom, right to privacy, and an extreme dislike for any company that tries to tell you what you can do with something you legally purchase from them.


More Thoughts:
There is a major flaw in DRM…the flaw is DRM. Companies give you all the tools and expect you to not be curious or try to use the tools in ways in which they think you shouldn’t. Imagine if all screwdriver manufacturers sued consumers for using a flat head screwdriver as a wedge (crowbar) to open things because “it shouldn’t be used that way.” That’s what businesses are trying to do to us today…tell us how to use our computers and media.

Imagine if all vehicles in the world immediately all got the same gas mileage and couldn’t be changed unless you pay the company. If someone invented a new car that got better gas mileage should they be forced to conform to the crap gas mileage standard? That’s what DRM is trying to do, hold all consumers to one standard dictated by RIAA/MPAA, for RIAA/MPAA, and supporting the RIAA/MPAA. If they have their way, DRM will be built into Hardware (just like Microsoft is planning for Vista) and no one will be able to circumvent it. If you invent a new computer, you’ll be forced to conform to their idea of fairness otherwise you won’t be able to sell you computer. Stifling creativity, stifling free thought. Stifling your ability to compute on your own terms. Think about that for a while. If you don’t like it then let your voice be heard…contact your congressperson and tell them you don’t like it.

To quote Cory Doctorow from his speech to Microsoft at Redmond on June 17th, 2004:

“DRM systems are usually broken in minutes, sometimes days. Rarely, months. It’s not because the people who think them up are stupid. It’s not because the people who break them are smart. It’s not because there’s a flaw in the algorithms. At the end of the day, all DRM systems share a common vulnerability: they provide their attackers with ciphertext, the cipher and the key. At this point, the secret isn’t a secret anymore.”

Author: devnet

devnet has been a project manager for a Fortune 500 company, a Unix and Linux administrator, a Technical Writer, a System Analyst, and a Systems Engineer during his 20+ years working with Technology.

18 thoughts on “Once Upon a Time, in DRM Land”

  1. I enjoyed the story, but I would say that as an environmentalist, I wouldn’t be sad if all personal cars dissappeared. I don’t see the personal car as a symbol of freedom, but rather a very inefficient means of transport which pollutes the planet. Because Americans have been bombarded with millions of dollars of industry propaganda and taught to ignore the negative externalaties of the personal car, they see the personal car as an inalienable right and a guarantee of liberty. It is a myopic and unsustainable notion of liberty. You only have to look at LA where most of the land in the city is devoted to the car, most people have to commute over an hour to get to work, smog hangs over the city damaging everyone’s health, and there is so much traffic that it actually takes everyone longer to get somewhere than if everyone used public transport. I guess what I’m trying to say is that not all freedoms are best preserved by individualistic or libertarian solutions. Whenever I evaluate “rights” I first look at whether the right benefits the weakest and most marginalized, or whether it benefits the most powerful in the society. If it benefits the former group, then it is almost always a right worth fighting for. Americans rarely ask whether a right harms the majority of the society. We view rights as some kind of absolute, instead of discussing them as a series of trade-offs which benefit some and harm others. Seeing our society as many interconnected beings, rather than autonomous individuals, would help us balance our rights against other’s rights much better. It would also teach us to think about which rights serve our society best to acheive social justice.

  2. Great story. The post-it notes part is historically incorrect though. Someone accidentally invented a very weak adhesive and didn’t know what to use it for. post-it notes were the first widespread use of the adhesive.

  3. Good story *but*…

    Digital songs and movies are trivially reproduced. Not so with cars and other physical objects. This makes them apples and oranges and presents a completely different problem.

    I think the solution is for media companies to offer more value in their packaged audio/video products of a kind that can’t be as easily copied or copied at all like a nice booklet and/or poster and other memorabilia… or discounts for concert tickets.. or better sounding renditions of the songs that are much larger and more difficult to copy but sound better (like SuperDisk).

  4. Awesome story, i wish the RIAA read this. Then again, if they can’t see the flaw in DRM, they probably won’t understand the story.

  5. Great story. Aldough I’ve heard another stupid idea. Someone in the Polish Ministry of Culture proposed to prohibit any posession of media recording device : CDR-, DVD-R, etc. Under the jail penalty. That’s only a project of law but if some undereducated idiot came up with this what is the futura ? And these are the people I’ve voted for … and that’s the worst thing …

  6. Wow! Can you imagine having to run an approved system (No Custom Builds), from an approved manufacture, in an improved environment, running an approved copy of subscription based crapdoze, that will only let you run approved software for approved periods of time!?! No approved computer means no approved windows, and if DRM is enforced no windows means no computer!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Try and run Linux and your in jail!!!!! You think M$ is a monopoly now, just wait!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! >:O Something has got to be done to beef up linux, and make it more attractive to people BEFORE vista is finaly released! Or else the future has started.

  7. In a park:
    “Hey man how’s it going!”

    “Oh pretty good, how about you?”

    “Not too bad, whats happening?”

    “Oh, I was just about to watch this movie I bought, but since my UMPC is not my PC it self-deleted on me. Appearently it voided my Windows licence as well so my device wiped itself.”

    “Thats aweful!!!”

    “Ya, but hey, you can’t blame microsoft for protecting their market.”

    “Say, whats happening over there?”

    In distance:
    Police officer: “This is the police, open up!!!”

    Police officer: “Break his door down!”

    Police officer 2: “Sir, should we use teargas and smoke grenades to lure him out?”

    Police officer: “Yes, and send for the vicous attack dogs”

    Police officer 3: “I”ve got him!!!”

    Man: “Ah, let me go!”

    Police officer: “Ahha! Just as I suspected, a linux user!”

    Police officer: “You’re hereby under arrest, your DRM rights revoked, your house confiscated, and your filthy custom-built computer system scheduled for incineration!”

    Man: “No! Not my system! I’ll do anything!”

    Police officer: “Hahahahaha! Too late! This is what becomes of all who appose Microsoft!”

    Man: “I”LL NEVER GIVE IN, YOU HEAR ME, NEVER!!!!! DOWN WITH MICROS-*gag* umph, umph!”

    Police officer: “Thats for like it! Keep him gaged, and for publicly attempting to slam microsoft I want his penalty escalated!”

    Police officer 2: “Um, escalated, sir?”

    Police officer: “Yes escalated you fool! Don’t you know the law! All who appose microsoft must get the death penalty! It was the first law inacted when George Bush, generously made Bill Gates president!”

    Police officer 2: “Of course sir! Right away sir!”

    Back at park:
    “How could they do that!?!”

    “Well its not uncommon, at one time there were many custom-builders and linux users, but by and by this happened.”

    “They all got arrested!?!”

    “Ha! Arrested! Are you kiding me!?!”

    “Well, I guess that is extreme.”

    “Extreme!?! Arrested!?! LOL! No, they all got the death penalty!”


    Down the street

    *Police Sirens*

    Man: “I’ll never surrender, never!”

    *Screeching tires of 2 dozen cop cars*

    Man: “Ah, get your hands off me!”

    *Teargas is sprayed*

    Man: “Aaaaaack!!!! You can’t do this to me! I have rights! *cough* *cough*”

    Man: “I’ll never surrender! LINUX FOREVER!”

    *Doors slam, and cars drive away*

    Back in park:
    “Just like that Torvalds guy!”

    “They killed Linus Torvalds!?!”

    “Killed him! Ha! Thats a laugh!”


    “They didn’t just kill him, they tortured him to death!”

    “Thats horrible!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

    “They say, before they gorged his eyes out that he was tied to a chair and forced to watch his computer and millions boxes of linux disks burn in a furnace!”

    “Who would do such a thing!?!”

    “Why president Bill of course! He charged Torvalds with high treason, for producing and promoting an operating system, proclaiming that linux is better than windows, and above all, making it free and opensourced!”

    “But, what about…”

    Police officer: “Freeze! We’ve been looking for you!”

    So what happens next? You be the judge!

  8. i hope that never happens but since bill gates is retireing maby that will happen. ๐Ÿ™

  9. Old Uncle Billie’s retiring? I hadn’t heard. I tend to keep my fingers clean of microsoft crap.

  10. Good story, and if a goverment is smart, they will not allow this drm. Later all the high-educated people will go to this country. I hope ….

    Too bad that the mass of the people just don’t care of the warning of the e-prophets.

    Rene Wennekes

  11. Is an amazing story, but I’m not sure of what is it, is really a story? or it’s somwthing that really happened?

  12. Just a made up story. Sometimes, I write a bit (non technical stuff mostly) and submit short stories to magazines and publications. So I decided to write my first about a technical thing. Hopefully, it wasn’t too painful.

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