Carolyn Schuk /
04.17.2009 02:59 PM
Originally featured on
Slipping the DRM stranglehold

In March, Vodaphone signed with Universal Music Group, Sony Music Entertainment and EMI Music to offer its tracks and albums free of digital rights management (DRM). This month, after some arm-wrestling, Apple convinced labels to allow iPhone users to download all iTunes tracks over a 3G connection in a DRM-free format.

Now, video game producer and distributor Valve — whose titles include “Half-Life 2,” “Counter-Strike” and “Team Fortress” — is knocking out DRM with its custom executable generation (CEG). With CEG, a unique identifier in each copy of the game ties the copy to the user, not the device it’s accessed through.

It's certainly laudable to stop punishing the paying customers for the pirates’ sins, but you've got to wonder, how long before pirates crack CEG and provoke another round of punishing the innocent? Another question is whether developers and publishers will trust the CEG/Steamworks feature enough not to bundle their other anti-piracy with their games.

It looks like the death of DRM will be the next big thing — and perhaps a good thing, too. Robbee Minicola, CEO of Australia and New Zealand TiVo licensee Hybrid TV, lays the blame for hybrid TV piracy at the industry’s door for failing to design content delivery around end users — a chain in which viewers start with prime time broadcast, move on to catch up services such as TiVo and on-demand, and then to multichanneling and archived resources, connecting via the most convenient device, e.g. the big screen TV in the living room, the mobile phone while riding to the airport and the laptop while waiting for the plane. And it's undeniable that pirated "warez" do meet customer requirements.

That DRM was a misbegotten love child of a greedy assumption that users would sit still for buying the same content many times over and the insulting presumption of user guilt fits Juniper Research’s Windsor Holden’s view as well. Holden says efforts to keep users out of the warez market are better served by “removing the DRM hurdle from the equation and effectively saying: if you’ve purchased this track once, then you won’t need to purchase it again in any format for any of your devices.”

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