Digital Rights Mismanagement: Defective By Design

Welcome to DRM, a regular look at the ongoing war against piracy.

So, I ask you all. What's the real problem with DRM?

Because it's not that it harms legitimate customers. Oh yes, that's a problem all right. But it's not the main issue. No, the real failing of DRM is that it just doesn't work. I'm sure many of us could grudgingly put up with invasive or limiting DRM if it had any effect on curbing piracy, but the fact of the matter is that it's completely ineffectual at doing what it's supposed to do. There has yet to be an uncrackable form of DRM, many games are cracked shortly after their release and some even hit the torrents before they hit the shelves. However, that still isn't its greatest failing. It's not just that it doesn't work, it can't work. DRM as a system is defective by design.

For a start, a content producer needs to be able to deliver their product to their customers. If they can't deliver a product, they can't sell the product. It's as simple as that. But they also need to prevent people who haven't paid for the product from getting at the product. This is where the problem lies. How do you put the product in the hands of customers, while keeping it out of the hands of pirates? And it's here where DRM comes into the equation. They put the product in a box, lock it up, and only give customers the key. In theory it sounds like a good plan, but in practice it falls to pieces.

See the issue is that when the customer gets the product they also get the box, lock and all. And once someone has the lock, they can figure out how to bypass it. The strength of any security system is reliant on an attacker not knowing how it functions. All systems have weak points, cameras have blind spots, alarms can be disabled. But unless someone is knowledgeable about the system they can't spot these weaknesses. The problem with DRM is that the security system is handed over with what it's protecting. And with unrestricted access most security systems won't stand a chance.

DRM is never going to be an effective weapon against piracy. At best it'll stop the average Joe from copying a game for his mates. Beyond that it isn't going to fulfil its aim of preventing piracy. Yet those who pay for the game continue to be saddled with headache inducing installation limits and tethers to the internet. A fine reward for their support. And this is how it will continue, because the executives in publishing companies like to look as if they're doing something about the problem. Even if it creates more problems than it solves.

Next time: A look into the more effective way of combating piracy, and its consequences.