Why Vista is defective by design

Vista’s DRM features have been drawing ever more criticism but it’s just the latest step among many that takes liberties out of the hands of users and into the media megacorps. So what are you going to do about it?

Even Vista is of course just the most recent example in a litany of anti-consumer devices designed to protect monopoly distribution for the media cartels and most certainly Microsoft at the expense of the you the customer.

In his recent column on Forbes Bruce Schneier covers off all the essential arguments including Microsoft’s interest in implementing DRM which I couldn’t have said better myself. In my piece on 10 reasons not to get Vista some of the comments in response suggested that the point about the inclusion of DRM in Vista was unfair that Microsoft’s hand was forced by Hollywood. Which is of course a gigantic load of wombat poo. As Schneier puts it:

“It’s all complete nonsense. Microsoft could have easily told the entertainment industry that it was not going to deliberately cripple its operating system take it or leave it. With 95% of the operating system market where else would Hollywood go?”

But the problem didn’t start with Microsoft. Copy protection and its newer perverted cousin DRM (Digital Rights Management or more accurately Digital Restrictions Management) has been around for a rather long time now. And it’s not that products shouldn’t be protected it’s that frequently these protections comes at a cost to the very people who it isn’t intended for — those who legitimately buy the products.

The problem is that while piracy is real Hollywood and ilk make the assumption that everyone in the entire world is guilty until proven innocent. Apparently it’s all too hard to do the right thing so why not just treat everyone as guilty and be done with it?

It doesn’t matter if you legitimately purchased your DVD or CD it doesn’t matter if you wish to format shift this product you own to another device you own and doesn’t matter that you routinely go out and buy more music and movies to enjoy — you’re a criminal deal with it.

As DRM has absolutely no use to the end user and in fact hinders their experience of a purchase DRM infused products have been termed ‘Defective by design’. Because lets face it they are. There’s even a website for it.

And why should you foot the bill for a copy protection mechanism that doesn’t apply to you? Eric Raymond put it best in the Jargon File with his definition of copy protection:

copy protection: n.

A class of methods for preventing incompetent pirates from stealing software and legitimate customers from using it. Considered silly.”

Decades from now our children will look back be in awe at the irony this period of human history produced. Lets cover the facts shall we:

Fact: DRM and copy protection doesn’t stop piracy.

We’ve had these in place for decades now. I can remember playing games on a Commodore 64 that came with a ‘code wheel’ to prevent anyone without the wheel from playing. Today there is Safedisc Laserlock Securom and others to prevent games being copied.

Yet games are still pirated.

For DVDs we’ve had CSS and CDs all manner of perverse copy protection systems — one of which could be bypassed with a felt tip pen while another installed a rootkit (both courtesy of Sony).

Yet DVDs and CDs are still pirated.

Even Vista’s DRM has already been broken.

Fact: DRM and copy protection hinders legitimate users.

Since DRM and copy protection is applied to the products on sale naturally it’s the people who buy the products who end up encountering it. Pirates? They rip it out and the pirated versions of software DVD and music have no usage restrictions and no hindrance.

It doesn’t get clearer than this: The only people who experience copy protection are same people who support the product by buying it.

I can already hear the children who will inherit our legacy laughing.

Fact: DRM and copy protection has cost billions.

Between Hollywood Sony EMI and the gaming publishers I can’t imagine the volumes of money sunk into these schemes. Yet piracy still occurs. It doesn’t take a genius to realise this is dead money that — here’s a crazy idea — could have been spent actually producing products that people want to buy and turn a profit.

Unfortunately it also adds to the cost to produce these products so the end user ultimately has to foot the bill for the paranoia of the media and entertainment megacorps that see the world through pirate-coloured glasses.

So let’s summarise…

DRM doesn’t work it hinders legitimate use and it has exorbitant costs through which ultimately users foot the bill.

And we only need to look to current events for yet another example of how pointless and expensive the pursuit of copy protection and DRM really is. As this Boing Boing blog describes the AACS copy protection system that forms a part of both HD-DVD and Blu-Ray has already been broken (just like CSS before it on DVDs) and puts it succinctly like so:

“AACS took years to develop and it has been broken in weeks. The developers spent billions the hackers spent pennies.”

So why does the Hollywood mentality still persist?

Because the industry just doesn’t get the future that’s bearing down on it. The RIAA and MPAA especially are a middleman the world no longer needs and they are fighting tooth and nail to hang onto the past. As legal downloadable music and TV distribution has shown the future is an on-demand online market where content producers sell direct to the consumer. No one needs the MPAA or RIAA anymore but they don’t want you to know that.

Finally all of this could be averted if the flawed reasoning that people are inherently criminals was actually thought about for a picosecond — if the majority of people really were thieves there isn’t a business on this planet that would still be standing.

The fact is while piracy is real (and is real eveywhere — you can bet the local fruit shop loses a few apples a week) that the majority of the human race will buy products rather than steal them because we all have an understanding that the world just wouldn’t work otherwise.

Hollywood for one wouldn’t have got as big as it has if this wasn’t true. Where did all those profits come from even in age before digital restrictions where people could still copy VHS tapes? Funny how Hollywood didn’t collapse. Instead it’s bigger than ever.

So here’s the message to the big content producers of this world — stop trying to protect your B-grade products from being stolen (have you seen some of the shit movies that make it to DVD?) and start investing money in making A-grade products people want to buy. Economics will do the rest.

Heck for a teeny tiny fraction of the millions of dollars wasted that’s been wasted so far I could give you the next Star Trek franchise.

And what can you do about it? Be vocal. Let them know. Don’t buy DRM products and when you see them on the shelves fire off an email telling why you didn’t buy it. Help them to understand that keeping you happy is in the best interests of their profts. When there’s enough noise change is inevitable.


Defective by design: What sort of future do you want?