Monday, March 15, 2010

Again - DRM penalises legitimate users only

Sarah works at Barnet Library on Saturdays and returned very excited this weekend as they've just introduced electronic loan of audio books and eBooks - fantastic you might think. Just download the book to your machine and then portable device and you save a visit to the library. Understandably they want DRM so that it mirrors the same service the library currently offers (you do have to return a physical book or CD after all).
So, Sarah installed the software on the media machine (which has a 10" 800x600 screen in the kitchen for iPlayer/iTunes etc and a second feed to the living room HD TV for Media Centre/Player - two sound cards mean you can be watching an HD recording in the living room and listening to/watching iPlayer in the kitchen). After she'd downloaded a book and tried to play it locally (which is entirely within the allowed behavior);

Quite why you need a hi-res screen for listening to an audio book is another matter. "No matter" I thought - I've got an old iPod kicking about, lets transfer it to that (again, OK in the EULA) and listen to it that way. Click the transfer button and you're in for an eight hour wait while it transcodes the WMA files to AAC. Also - it finds the iPod about one time in five (iTunes sees it every time) and so the chance of it working and you getting more than just a sample of chapters is remote. I did think about pulling out an old Windows Mobile 'phone but at that point I just torrented the book and it's good to go. You try and do the right thing but they make it impossible.

This all begs the question why public money has been spent on this very sub-optimal solution? If you don't want people to listen to these things then don't make them download'able - don't have an audio/eBook service. They will no doubt say that they can't make it easy as people can pirate/pass on the files. However - the OverDrive Media Console allows you to burn regular Red Book audio CDs - so they have NO trouble exposing the data un-DRM'ed! I despair. It reminded me of a time that I bought a couple of episodes of CSI from Channel Five's VOD service - they'd only play on the laptop I downloaded them on and not my media machine connected to the tele. Again - within half an hour I'd scored them off bittorrent (and in HD!)

1 comment:

Mat said...

You familiar with the recent Ubisoft DRM debacle Phil?
They've started shipping PC titles that require an internet connection, even though they're single player. Additionally, it saves your progress to their servers, with no local backup.
If you lose connection, you lose any progress since your last save. You can't continue playing until you're able to reconnect.

Predictably, as with all recent major releases, demand was high on the opening weekend for the two titles that debuted with this DRM. Ubisoft's servers couldn't handle the demand, fell over, and a large number of people were unable to play their legitimately purchased games.

Meanwhile, the pirates cracked the DRM on the first day of release and were playing unhindered. Ubi tried to spin it by saying that this was not the case, and also that their servers had failed due to a DDOS attack, but I've seen enough trusted sources stating that the crack works fine to know it's just a big company doing damage control.

I think there are ways that DRM can work and indeed even enhance a service (see Steam), but too many people seem to be getting it wrong, and it's just giving pirates another excuse to justify copyright theft.