Is DRM Doomed? The Case Against Digital-Rights Management
(Page 2 of 3)
Adobe, Apple, Intuit, and Microsoft have all faced flak from customers, the Internet community, and/or regulators as a result of DRM schemes. But no company has suffered more than Sony, which has never been able to reconcile its desire to protect its media assets with the market's demand for hardware that hasn't been hobbled.
Sony, as McQuivey points out, is "unable to sell portable music devices, which by the way is a market it created three decades ago with the Walkman." That's largely attributable to its preference for its proprietary ATRAC digital file format over the unprotected MP3 format, which got the vote of the market.
- A Smarter Approach: Inside IBM Business Analytics Solutions for Mid-Size Businesses
- Managing Threats in the Digital Age
Sony's MiniDisc, Digital Audio Tape (DAT), and Super Audio CDs have failed to catch fire in the market because of format limitations. MiniDisc players didn't support MP3 files initially. DAT's serial copy protection management system relegated the format to live field recording and made it a less-appealing option once CD recording arrived. And the SACD format, introduced in 2000, includes digital copy protection. Neither it, not the competing DVD-Audio format (also protected), have proven to be something consumers actually want.
Sony's biggest blunder, however, began with its attempt to protect its music CDs from being copied. The company used Extended Copy Protection and MediaMax CD-3 DRM software to protect its CDs. But as security researcher Mark Russinovich revealed on his blog, the copy protection measures installed a rootkit -- generally considered to be spyware and a security risk -- on users' PCs. A storm of protest and lawsuits followed.
Sony's perceived lack of sensitivity to its customers is highlighted by comments made by Sony's president of global digital business, Thomas Hesse, in a National Public Radio interview: "Most people, I think, don't even know what a rootkit is, so why should they care about it?"
In late 2001, Sony and Vivendi Universal launched Pressplay, a streaming music service with limited download options. About the same time, AOL Time Warner, BMG, EMI, and RealNetworks launched MusicNet. Both services strangled themselves with DRM.
"If you look at the DRM implemented by MusicNet and Pressplay when they came out, it was terrible because that DRM prevented you from downloading the music," said Gordon. "You could only listen to it as long as you subscribed. That DRM was incredibly unsuccessful because people didn't want all those restrictions."
While Sony's conflicting business unit goals may have earned it a role in more DRM-related failures than any other company, it's not alone in its missteps. Circuit City backed a pay-per-view DVD format called DIVX (not to be confused with the video codec DivX) in 1998, and it was all but dead a year later. DIVX disks could be rented and viewed for a period of 48 hours following the initial viewing. After that, a fee of several dollars was required to reactivate the disc for a set period.
While DIVX was no doubt a compelling proposition for movie studios, consumers were less than enthusiastic. The DVD Journal sums up DIVX thus: "DIVX isn't merely inferior media, nor is it just purchasing over a modem. DIVX is a much more distinct product because it's actually a really dumb idea."
Undaunted by the reality of the market, Flexplay Technologies attempted to bring another disposable DVD format, known as ez-D, to market in 2003.