Contracts, DRM Style

by on September 21, 2006 · 28 comments

I think the hysterical tone of this article about the new restrictions in the latest version of the Windows Media Player DRM is unnecessary, but it makes some good points:

One of the problems with WiMP11 is licensing and backing it up. If you buy media with DRM infections, you can’t move the files from PC to PC, or at least you can’t and have them play on the new box. If you want the grand privilege of moving that content, you need to get the approval of the content mafia, sign your life away, and use the tools they give you. If you want to do it in other ways, you are either a lawbreaker or following the advice of J Allard. Wait, same thing.

So, in WiMP10, you just backed up your licenses, and stored them in a safe place. Buying DRM infections gets you a bunch of bits and a promise not to sue, but really nothing more. The content mafia will do anything in its power, from buying government to rootkitting you in order to protect those bits, and backing them up leaves a minor loophole while affording the user a whole lot of protection.

Guess which one wins, minor loophole or major consumer rights? Yes, WiMP11 will no longer allow you the privilege of backing up your licenses, they are tied to a single device, and if you lose it, you are really SOL.

We hear a lot about how DRM is a contract. But what kind of contract allows one party to unilaterally and retroactively change its terms?

Moreover, this is really a pretty severe restriction on the use of digital files. Backups are a fundamental part of good computer use. I back up my data at least once a month. I use my laptop pretty heavily, and a little bit abusively, and I rely on the fact that if my hard drive dies (or is lost or stolen) I’ll be able to get my data from backups.

In some cases, if you ask really nicely, the store that sold you the files will permit you to access the files again. But it’s clear that they do this out of the goodness of their hearts: “Some stores do not permit you to restore media usage rights at all.”

Is it any wonder that Windows Media-based music stores are going down in flames?

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