My view on DRM

People complain about DRM a lot:
  • DRM sucks, its too restrictive.
  • I can't play a song on all the devices I own because of DRM, even though I have paid the full price.
  • My car stereo can't play the songs bought from iTunes unless I burn them in a CD.
  • My linux machine can't play the songs.
I totally agree with the fact that DRM is killing the experience, and its actually quite cumbersome and annoying to use for the end users. But, looking at what people have been doing, if there is no DRM, and if movies and songs get available to download easily, people will definitely copy them, either knowingly or un-knowingly.

DRM does give us some benefits, like:
  • Having been able to provide a eat-all subscription based service.
  • Providing movie rentals based on download.
  • Having been able to download files you have bought again, if u loose them.
  • Studios being able to monetize on individual downloads, and hence (probably), passing on the profits to content creators.
  • Stopping people from unauthorized copying the media.
What we really need to not "Kill" the DRM, but to "Fix" it. Right now, there are multiple providers of DRM: Apple, Microsoft, Real, etc. They do not work with each other, to the extent of hardware level. Creating a good DRM system takes a considerable amount of effort, and has a big business advantage for "lock-in". A person who owns 500 songs from iTunes will not switch away from Apple, just because it will all be lost. To have DRM do a little better, we need to:
  • Have just one DRM format, which is open, and controlled by a non-profit organization.
  • Make this format available for everyone royalty free, so people can get wild and implement it everywhere possible.
  • Have this format implemented in all the hardware devices, car stereos, phones, etc. and be able to authorize any device.
This will provide a better user experience, as people will be able to play their purchased media everywhere, and not locked in to a single provider. It will also be beneficial to the studios, who can focus on better content rather than fighting with the DRM companies to support more devices. People and Studios will be happy, the middle-man (iTunes, FairPlay, etc) will become redundant.

A typical use case for this will be:
  • Listening to a song on XM radio, you like it and immediately buy it in your JVC car stereo.
  • Now you copy this song to your iPod, and carry it around with you.
  • Once you reach home, you get this on your windows computer, and the linux based XBMC media center in living room so you can listen to it everywhere.
  • You can also put this song on your Symbian phone and set it as ring tone.
  • You can even buy a song from the gas station, and listen it on any of your device without worrying about compatibility issues.
There is nothing inherently wrong with DRM, its just wrong with one company controlling it.


  1. Interesting topic, on which I probably know next to nothing.

    However worth noting that people are divided on the view if DRM is useful in the first place. Like many "necessary evils" it may be here to stay anyway, but wouldn't that slow down any encouragement to developing an open standard?

    Sun seems to have initiated one. Specs are ready and it's open for implemenatation:


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