Posts tagged ‘DRM’

Life in the Anti-Trust World

Today Apple Computer won the class-action anti-trust case filed against them.  The plaintiffs were seeking a billion dollars in damages (after tripling) for a DRM system (Fairplay) that does not exist any more used on a device (the iPod) that Apple has pretty much phased out.  These products were such a threat to the survival of competitors that they don't even exist any more.  This is not atypical of how anti-trust often plays out in the marketplace, particularly in the technology sphere.  Any day now I will be filing my lawsuit against Commodore for suppressing competition in the home computer market.

SimCity 5 Now Has 1402 1-Star Reviews on Amazon

As of tonight, the new SimCitygame is still unplayable due to overloaded servers and numerous bugs even when one is on the server.  Today, the manufacturer purposely defeatured the product in a patch to try to get it to work.  As I predicted the other day, this product was not ready for market.

Update:  Via Game Skinny, this may be an example of some of the worst customer service I have ever seen.  The makers of SimCity in a press release tells users they may request a refund.  When a customer requests the refund, he is told that he can request it, so the press release is not lying, but they are not going to process it.  Unbelievable.  Extra credit for the fact that those who bought from Amazon can get a prompt and immediate refund, but those who bought directly from the manufacturer, like me, are stuck.

Further, it is becoming increasingly clear that the multiplayer capabilities that supposedly require the server login are a sham - a very very thin shell of functionality that adds almost nothing to the game but provides the excuse for always-online DRM.

 

The DRM Genie Just Won't Go Back into the Bottle

Another milestone has been reached in DRM lameness:  Western Digital, which I considered, at least until today, to be the clear leader in the hard drive wars, has instituted DRM on its hard drives:

Western Digital's 1TB MyBook external hard drives won't share media files over network connections (UPDATE: Don't install the "required" client software! See workaround below). From the product page:

"Due to unverifiable media license authentication, the most common
audio and video file types cannot be shared with different users using
WD Anywhere Access."

It doesn't matter what
the files are: If you try to share these formats over a network,
Western Digital assumes not just that you're a criminal, but that it is
its job to police users. You see, MP3, DivX, AVI, WMV and Quicktime files are copy-protected formats.

Here is the list of 30 file extensions the hard drive won't let you share.  It does not matter if those mp3 files are just dictation files you created yourself using an MP3 recorder -- you still can't share them.  Really lame.  Why WD feels the need to get into the business of policing this stuff is beyond me.  Can you imagine the product meeting.  Gee, I think we should jump into the DRM fray, even though we don't receive a dime from the media companies and it will really piss all of our customers off.  Corry Doctorow also comments.

More Vista Suckage

The laptop I bought my kids 6 months ago is rapidly becoming the worst purchase I have ever made.  Not because the laptop is bad, but because of a momentary lack of diligence I bought one with Vista installed.  It has been a never-ending disaster trying to get this computer to work.  A while back, I put XP on a partition and my kids spend most of their time on XP since, well, it works.  Vista does not.  It is the Paris Hilton of OS's -- looks pretty but does not work.

In particular, the networking is an enormous step backwards from XP.  The wireless networking was a real pain to get set up in the first place, in contrast to XP and my wife's Mac which both worked and connected from the moment the power switch turned on. 

Now, we are getting two new errors.  First, at random times, the computer will stop being able to connect to the internet.  It will have a good wireless signal, and see other computers on the network fine, and the other computers on the network will see the internet, but Vista does not.  Just rebooted the computer into the XP partition, and XP sees the Internet fine -- its just Vista that is broken.

Second, and perhaps even more inexcusable, I have to reinstall the printer driver in Vista at nearly every log on.  There is a bug in Vista such that laptops that move off the network and come back will find that the network printers are now marked "offline" and there is nothing one can do to bring them online short of reinstalling the drivers.  Really.  I thought I was doing something wrong, but searching the web this is a known problem.  None of the suggested workarounds are working for me.

Vista is rapidly becoming the New Coke of operating systems.  I have had every version of windows on my computer at one time or another, including Windows 1.0 and the egregious Windows ME, and I can say with confidence Vista is the worst of them all by far.  More: corporate demand for upgrading to XP from Vista;  DRM hell in Vista;  how I set up dual-booting on a Vista machine; and what happened to the File menu?

Looks like the XP partition is soon going to be the only partition.  But recognize how serious this step is:  Laptops, unlike desktops, have more model-specific device drivers.  For example, instead of one Nvidia graphics driver for all cards, you tend to need the driver for your specific card in your specific computer model.   The computer I have has never and will never publish XP drivers.  I have found drivers that work for XP for most things, but not for sound.  So I will be giving up a substantial piece of functionality -- sound-- in exchange for never having to swear at Vista again.

Vista Update -- It Still Sucks

Short version: avoid Vista.  Longer version:  I wrote previously about Vista writing a new chapter in fair use: 

Because, having killed fair use for multiple copies, believe it or
not, the media companies are attempting to kill fair use even for the
original media by the original buyer!  I know this sounds crazy, but in
Windows Vista, media companies are given the opportunity to, in
software, study your system, and if they feel that your system is not
secure enough, they can downgrade the quality of the media you
purchased or simply refuse to have it play.  In other words, you may
buy an HD DVD and find that the media refuses to play on your system,
not because you tried to copy it, but because it feels like your system
*might* be too open.  The burden of proof is effect on the user to prove to the media companies that their system is piracy-proof before the media they paid for will play...

Back to the book
analogy, it's as if the book will not open and let itself be read unless
you can prove to the publisher that you are keeping the book in a
locked room so no one else will ever read it.  And it is Microsoft who
has enabled this, by providing the the tools to do so in their
operating system.  Remember the fallout from Sony putting spyware, err copy protection, in their CD's -- turns out that that event was just a dress rehearsal for Windows Vista.

Via Instapundit, Bruce Schneier concurs:

Windows Vista includes an array of "features" that you don't want.
These features will make your computer less reliable and less secure.
They'll make your computer less stable and run slower. They will cause
technical support problems. They may even require you to upgrade some
of your peripheral hardware and existing software. And these features
won't do anything useful. In fact, they're working against you. They're
digital rights management (DRM) features built into Vista at the behest
of the entertainment industry.

And you don't get to refuse them.

The details are pretty geeky, but basically

Microsoft


has reworked a lot of the core operating system to add copy protection
technology for new media formats like HD-DVD and Blu-ray disks. Certain
high-quality output paths--audio and video--are reserved for protected
peripheral devices. Sometimes output quality is artificially degraded;
sometimes output is prevented entirely. And Vista continuously spends
CPU time monitoring itself, trying to figure out if you're doing
something that it thinks you shouldn't. If it does, it limits
functionality and in extreme cases restarts just the video subsystem.
We still don't know the exact details of all this, and how far-reaching
it is, but it doesn't look good....

Unfortunately, we users are caught in the crossfire. We are not only
stuck with DRM systems that interfere with our legitimate fair-use
rights for the content we buy, we're stuck with DRM systems that
interfere with all of our computer use--even the uses that have nothing
to do with copyright....

In the meantime, the only advice I can offer you is to not upgrade
to Vista.

We have about 50 computers in the company and I have banned everyone from upgrading to Vista.  I have studied Vista and there is nothing there that helps my business, and a lot that hurts it (e.g. higher initial price and much higher system requirements.)  If we upgraded, we might have to replace half our old ink jet printers just because the manufacturers are really unlikely to write Vista drivers for them.  We have 4 Dell's in the closet with XP loaded.  After those are used up, I will build all the future computers myself.  I have several OEM copies of XP on the shelf (less than 1/2 price of the Vista retail upgrade) and I will buy more if it looks like they are going to stop selling it.  I would switch everyone to Linux, except most of my employees are not very computer savvy and its just too hard to get them all trained.  I will probably only buy Vista for one box, which is my gaming machine at home, and even that is at least a year away before anyone has a killer DirectX 10 game I have to have.

The Next Milestone In Killing Fair Use

Back in the stone age (say, about 20 years ago) we used to have this quaint concept for media we purchased called "fair use."  I won't get into the legal definitions, but it meant in practice that if I had a book, I could read it at home, or I could take it into work and read it there.  In college, I would read novels in the back of boring lectures, and soon hit on the tactic of xeroxing 20-30 pages of my book and putting the copies in a folder to disguise what I was doing.  Fortunately, fair use let me do so without penalty.  Sometimes a friend would read an article in a magazine he thought was cool, and he would xerox a copy of the article (a sample of the magazine, so to speak) and share it with me.

Increasingly, in the digital age, none of the behaviors are allowed anymore.  For years I used to install my copy of turbo tax on both my home and office computers, and carry my tax file back and forth on a floppy to work on it.  Then, a couple of years ago, Turbo Tax installed a form of rights management that required that I buy a second copy of the same software for my own personal use for my office.  In effect, I could no longer carry my novel to work -- I had to buy a second copy if I wanted to read it at the office.  The same situation has prevailed with digital music files - increasingly recording companies are taking the position that if you want a digital file on both your iPod and your home system, you need to buy two copies.  And the sampling and sharing we used to do all the time with magazine and newspaper articles are not longer permitted for digital media.

Having firmly established the principle that multiple uses by the same individual of the same digital media should require multiple purchases, where do we go next?  Well, I think that we will look back on the release of Windows Vista as the next great milestone in killing fair use.  Microsoft may have left out nearly every product enhancement they originally promised for Vista, particularly the revamped file system, and tried to hide the fact with some pretty desktop eye candy, but they found plenty of time to add numerous DRM and copy protection schemes to the OS. 

Because, having killed fair use for multiple copies, believe it or not, the media companies are attempting to kill fair use even for the original media by the original buyer!  I know this sounds crazy, but in Windows Vista, media companies are given the opportunity to, in software, study your system, and if they feel that your system is not secure enough, they can downgrade the quality of the media you purchased or simply refuse to have it play.  In other words, you may buy an HD DVD and find that the media refuses to play on your system, not because you tried to copy it, but because it feels like your system *might* be too open.  The burden of proof is effect on the user to prove to the media companies that their system is piracy-proof before the media they paid for will play (emphasis added). 

PVP [a new Vista DRM component] eliminates these security gaps, enabling a series of DRM measures that keep
a high-resolution content stream encrypted, and in theory completely protected,
from its source media all the way to the display used to watch it. If the system
detects a high-resolution output path on a user's PC (i.e., a system capable of
moving high-res content all the way to a user's display), it will check to make
sure that every component that touches a protected content stream adheres to the
specification. If it finds a noncompliant device, it can downgrade the content
stream to deliver a lower-quality picture -- or it can even refuse to play the
content at all, depending on the rights holder's preferences.

So you see the next step.  First, they prevented fair use of copies.  Now, they are going to prevent fair use of the original.  Back to the book analogy, its as if the book will not open and let itself be read unless you can prove to the publisher that you are keeping the book in a locked room so no one else will ever read it.  And it is Microsoft who has enabled this, by providing the the tools to do so in their operating system.  Remember the fallout from Sony putting spyware, err copy protection, in their CD's -- turns out that that event was just a dress rehearsal for Windows Vista.

As Rosoff's statement implies, many of Vista's DRM technologies exist not
because Microsoft wanted them there; rather, they were developed at the behest
of movie studios, record labels and other high-powered intellectual property
owners.

"Microsoft was dealing here with a group of companies that simply don't trust
the hardware [industry]," Rosoff said. "They wanted more control and more
security than they had in the past" -- and if Microsoft failed to accommodate
them, "they were prepared to walk away from Vista" by withholding support for
next-generation DVD formats and other high-value content.

Microsoft's official position is that Vista's DRM capabilities serve users by
providing access to high-quality content that rights holders would otherwise
serve only at degraded quality levels, if they chose to serve them at all. "In
order to achieve that content flow, appropriate content-protection measures must
be in place that create incentives for content owners while providing consumers
the experiences they want and have grown to expect,"

Nope, no arrogance here.

Matt Rosoff, lead analyst at research firm Directions On Microsoft, asserts that
this process does not bode well for new content formats such as Blu-ray and
HD-DVD, neither of which are likely to survive their association with DRM
technology. "I could not be more skeptical about the viability of the DRM
included with Vista, from either a technical or a business standpoint," Rosoff
stated. "It's so consumer-unfriendly that I think it's bound to fail -- and when
it fails, it will sink whatever new formats content owners are trying to
impose."

More links on Vista DRM issues here

Update:  OpenOffice 2.1 is out.  We love OpenOffice at our company.  We stopped buying MS Office a couple of years ago and have been thrilled with the decision.  The version 1 release was weak but since version 2.0 it has been a very strong offering.  It is nice to see Sun getting its Microsoft hatred out in a more productive manner than suing them all over the place.