XKCD strip explains how DRM creates piracy

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31 Responses to “XKCD strip explains how DRM creates piracy”

  1. PixelFish says:

    About three years back I lost my entire iTunes collection at the time, because my laptop crashed hardcore and my backup CDs got lost in a move, within two weeks. I didn’t have an iPod or MP3 player with my purchases stowed on it, so that wasn’t an option either.

    Anyway, I get the urge to hear a song, and though I should have know better, I fire up iTunes and go to download it. And I get this message, more or less, “This account has already purchased this song. Do you want to purchase it again?”

    So they KNEW I had purchased it, had the license at some point, but because I no longer had the file I had initially downloaded, they were going to CHARGE ME AGAIN. Talk about rubbing salt in the wound.

    iTunes may have changed in the mean time, but I don’t know because I have never since purchased anything from their store. I buy CDs or hope to god the artists sell MP3s of the songs I want on a non-DRMed site.

  2. dorkhero says:

    @#11 – Awhile back my wife had her MacBookPro stolen. When she replaced it, she contacted Apple about all the music she had bought from iTunes. They were most accommodating and let her download all her songs for no additional charge.

  3. eAi says:

    PIXELFISH: I’ve heard from various other people that if you email Apple nicely, they can let you redownload all your music… I agree it should be easy… If you do it with an App from the App Store on iTunes, you get to redownload it whenever you want.

    “You have already purchased this item. To download it again for free, select OK”

  4. minimalniemand says:

    @ #5:

    “Buy CDs and rip them” – In germany it is illegal to rip a CD if it is copy protected. Since most CDs are copy protected these days ripping is virtually illegal.

    My father (who isn’t that much into computers) wanted to create a mix-CD (for his car) with songs from different CDs he bought. This was – of course – impossible (due to the protection) for him and illegal for me to do.

    So what options do you have? Buy something crippled that you can have full-featured for free? Sorry, that’s a bad deal.

    Don’t get me wrong, I love music and am willing to buy CDs. But let me do with them what I want, cuz I fuckin paid them.

    Copy protection and DRM only affects “normal” people like my father. It has absolutely no impact on technically skilled people who pirate music on a grand scale.

    So what do we learn from it? The aim of DRM is not to fight piracy, but to cash up normal people twice and to enter new markets (try an internet research for who owns those companies that provide DRM and copy protection technology)

    DRM is – like everything else – a product. A product you pay for without ever wanting it. Thats one great business model!

  5. zuzu says:

    justifies piracy by playing on the false idea that consumers have a right to get any media in any format they choose.

    Maybe not a “right”, but certainly a market demand. It’s the job of business to provide customers with what customers want; not to dictate to them what business thinks customers should be allowed to have.

    Clearly customers want something like Oink; they’re even willing to donate money to such a system.

    Other subscription models almost work, except that they rely on proprietary DRM formats, so they snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. What customers want is a subscription model where they get non-DRM 320kbps MP3s (or perhaps FLAC / ALAC for a higher price), and their “feeding frenzy” will be contained by the fact that a majority of people won’t try to download everything, spend $500 on hard drives, and then quit after a month.

    Instead, customers will come to rely on that as long as they keep their $10/month account up to date with payments, they can download any song ever made as a regular de facto MP3 file.

    Amazon could also stand to learn this lesson with their Kindle. It needs to support regular PDFs, and books should be available with this same subscription model service — $10/month to download any PDF book you want as much as you want.

    These subscription models, of course, shift from a product-based mindset to a service-based mindset. What’s being sold is not the songs themselves, but their availability and the quality control of the rip end encoding, as well as the ease and simplicity of the transaction.

    Music will (eventually) be free on Orbitcast:

    …or as an alternate headline, the “Service Model vs. Product Model” (far less exciting).

    The music industry is at an important paradigm shift right now, and there’s a heated debate within the blogosphere about the economics behind the distribution of music. Mind you, this is far different than the value of music, but easily confused. In the end though – it’s inevitable in my opinion – music will eventually turn away from its current product model, and into a service model. In short, music will be “free.”

    It’s not that people will stop paying for music, but it’s how they pay for music that is the key.

    DRM is falling apart, and we all knew it was going to happen. iTunes is selling DRM-free music. Amazon has opened up a DRM-free MP3 music store. Even Microsoft and its new Zune 2 is using DRM-free as a differentiator. The technical restrictions on owning and using music are disappearing.

    Or, as was said on TechDirt:

    “For software and filmed entertainment, the inevitable shift is to a service model rather than a product model (which is the same as music). A services model recognizes that the creation (not the distribution) of content is where the marginal costs are. In reality, they’ve always been services models — just disguised as product models.”

  6. zuzu says:

    @BC2

    Indeed, all legitimate trade is both-benefit. But at the same time, “The customer is always right.”

    The hubris of corporatism is the belief that revenue is “extracted” rather than earned.

    Because as far as I know, writers do not make a living reading their books live, as musicians do with their music. To ignore this issue tells me that it’s real, and that people just don’t want to look that far down the road. Which would be ironic for the SF community.

    I feel like I’ve been over this a thousand times… and the Orbitcast article I mentioned earlier drives this home as well:

    You cannot sell data as a commodity.

    Bill Gates conned everyone into believing that software (or any other kind of packaged information) could be sold in a box the way real physical widgets are sold, because he convinced people that a square peg could fit in a round hole.

    However, the industrial business model of selling “units” of software has always been a dubious enterprise. Because, ostensibly everyone has their own “factory” (i.e. computer) from which they can duplicate the original for free.

    “We’re all printing presses now.”

    So your business model cannot rely on selling “units”, because practically anyone can do that. (You’re competing directly with everyone who is also your customer.) But what it can rely on is the creation (i.e. invention) of new original products.

    The irony of musicians and authors fretting over “piracy” is that it’s the very thing that empowers them while the value of labels and publishers evaporates. (Although, as I said earlier, there’s plenty of value for labels and publishers to re-invent themselves as “search engines” like the iTunes Store or Amazon.)

    But easy copying of data is a feature not a bug. You just need a new business model where people pay you for the creation of new works, rather than for copies of something that already exists.

    Business models of this type include:
    * dominant assurance contracts
    * prediction markets
    * Google AdSense (write to your blog, and new readers = more ad money)

  7. zuzu says:

    “You have already purchased this item. To download it again for free, select OK”

    Indeed, quite the facepalm that Apple missed the opportunity to do this with the iTunes Music Store, because that’s one of the greatest value-adds: never worry about losing your data, the iTMS is always there as a backup for your music.

  8. balzagna says:

    I can feel a major internet boner between XKCD and CORY

  9. Takuan says:

    no way they could have overlooked this angle. Pure greed.

  10. Yorgle says:

    Wil Wheaton made a blog post today about this:

    http://wilwheaton.typepad.com/wwdnbackup/2008/10/why-i-wont-ever.html

    titled “why i won’t ever infect anything you buy from me with drm”

    Cheers, Wil!

  11. OM says:

    Q: Why are the MafRIAA goons wanting to make downloading music so painful?

    A: They want you to go back to buying CDs the old fashioned way. That way they can continue to release whole albums of crap and you have no ability to pick and choose the songs you want to buy.

    …With that in mind, piracy is more than justified simply because it’ll force the MafRIAA to finally capitulate and in order to make money on music they’ll force artists to quit pumping out filler crap songs and produce more hits. They’ll take the approach Barry Gordy did and issue a directive to produce only hits or get fired.

  12. Anonymous says:

    This was recently brought home by Walmart. They recently announced that they are closing their online music service so they recommended that anyone who bought anything from them previously should put it on CD, because soon they won’t be able to use it otherwise.

  13. WeightedCompanionCube says:

    “Buy CDs and rip them” – In germany it is illegal to rip a CD if it is copy protected. Since most CDs are copy protected these days ripping is virtually illegal.

    Oddly enough, although the US DMCA and proposed Canadian legislation would very much apply to protected CDs, they are not the norm in North America. I think whoever keeps an eye on ‘Red Book’ compliance has something to say about it.

    Anti-rip measures on audio CDs is a European thing. I have yet to encounter one here. Back when the Sony rootkit scandal hit, I wanted one for a ‘collector’s item’ but all I could find were unprotected copies.

    I also have yet to get a DVD from Netflix I couldn’t do a straight rip on, including new releases that should have been VERY protected. I suspect the discs Netflix gets are ‘special’, so Netflix doesn’t have to deal with complaints when they won’t play.

  14. Clif Marsiglio says:

    You could just buy the DRM-Free stuff from iTunes.

    There is even an option to only buy iTunes Plus music warning you if you try to buy something DRM’d (or more specific to their store — higher resolution).

    Personally, I find any of the downloadables to be enough quality that even transcoding the files as both Audible and iTunes allows to be sufficient to get around the DRM mess. For music that I really care about…I’m not going to buy online anyways.

  15. Jeff says:

    Zuzu said, “The irony of musicians and authors fretting over “piracy” is that it’s the very thing that empowers them while the value of labels and publishers evaporates.”

    I really want Cory Doctorow to tell us how the power of his publisher and its imprint is evaporating. Because I don’t think he will. I mean, why would he? He makes a living (in part) by selling books printed on dead trees. I should know, I own a copy of each (and a slew of copies for friends and students). But I also think the world is moving toward e-readers, but if I’m wrong, tell me so. I have to figure that the publisher isn’t going to want to publish without DMR. Not really. And if I’m wrong, which I might be, please tell my why. I see the future, and it’s still filled with DMR. I really want a publisher to be interviewed with regard to this issue. Doesn’t Cory’s man from Tor come here once in a while. Let him explain it.

  16. cycle23 says:

    He's come a long way...?

    Oh wait, I don’t think they allow images:
    He’s come a long way…?

  17. classic01 says:

    Audible.com is a perfect example.

    I had a big collection of audio books bought at audible.com about 7 years ago. And if you know audible you only download the portions of the books that you are listening to. So everything sits on the server.

    My Windows CE Cassiopeia broke. So, I didn’t log in into my account for a few months then one day I decided to download a few of my books to my computer. and Voila. Audible’s website had been re-designed and my username and password didn’t work anymore.

    I’ve e-mailed them complaining and they’ve said they couldn’t find me on the system.

    This idea that now we have to spend almost the same amount of money to “rent” when we used to “own it” is mind boggling.

  18. plasmator says:

    XKCD without title tags makes baby jesus’ mouse cursor cry as it hovers over the comic in vain.

  19. midknyte says:

    > You could just buy the DRM-Free stuff from iTunes.

    And still have device lock-in.

    I know, I know, almost every player out there will play AAC – but not all.

    All of them, will play, mp3′s.

  20. BC2 says:

    Zuzu:
    Maybe not a “right”, but certainly a market demand. It’s the job of business to provide customers with what customers want; not to dictate to them what business thinks customers should be allowed to have.

    Uh, yeah right. If it’s the job of business to provide customers with what they want, then how about if music companies give me mp3s of all their music for a penny, a lamborghini, and a house on the beach. If they don’t provide it, then they’re dictating what I should be allowed to have.

    Optimistically, business is about providing a service and getting paid in a transaction that is mutually beneficial to both parties (company and consumer). (I won’t bother defining the pessimistic definition of business.)

    (Admittedly, I also realize how pointless it is to argue with Zuzu.)

  21. Anonymous says:

    I still don’t understand how that simple logic is so hard for the recording industry to grasp. People aren’t going to buy your product if they can find a better version for free, unless you can make them feel guilty or fearful enough not to pirate–and you can’t.

    Putting DRM on a product is a sure way to lose me as a customer. There have been several times in the past year when I’ve considered buying music but have changed my mind because of fears of DRM. (I’m still nervous about buying CDs because I bought a DRM’d one once that I couldn’t return. Way to go!)

    And now, being able to watch movies on my iPod means that I don’t feel like buying movies I’m not allowed to transfer, either. It wasn’t really an issue before, but now I’m netflixing movies rather than buying them.

  22. aocole says:

    I’m as vehemently anti-DRM as they come, but I think the discussion of DRM vs. piracy should continue to focus on the argument that most pirated versions are less encumbered with restrictions, and thus a better product, while specifically steering clear of advocating piracy. While I understand that the statement PIRATE IT made in the comic may not be said with a straight face, there has been an undercurrent of justification for piracy in this and a number of other recent posts on boingboing.
    The stop-gap solution to the DRM problem is to buy from Amazon or other DRM-free online providers, or stick with the old fashioned approach: buy CD’s and rip them. DRM is not an excuse to feel justified in pirating anything you want. To those who will say “it’s not convenient to go to a store/wait for shipping,” please remember that it is not a constitutional or even a moral right to be able to obtain copyrighted works in any format you choose, instantly, at any time. If portability and durability are important to you, boycott DRM and buy a CD. That’s what I do.

  23. zuzu says:

    no way they could have overlooked this angle. Pure greed.

    Like the difference between “speed” and “haste”, I’ll interpret the difference here between “self-interest” and “greed”.

    If Apple got greedy, it’s to their own overall detriment. Effectively marketing iTMS as a music library backup makes people more willing to pay for music from the iTunes Store. Conversely, double-dipping customers will sour them against future purchases.

  24. zuzu says:

    @Midknyte

    iTunes will do AAC -> MP3 conversion.

    In the larger scope of industry, however, what has always been pathetic is the desire of companies (RIAA, Sony, Microsoft, et. al.) to impose proprietary formats as a vendor lock-in for rent-seeking rather than profit-seeking. By doing so, these companies are announcing that they don’t believe in themselves enough to continue to deliver a superior product or service to customers in the long-term, so instead they must rely on a bait and switch: selling you something you actually want now, but ensnaring you into something you won’t want later. Not unlike the “teaser” rates credit card companies offer.

    If you can’t compete using open standards (i.e. in a free entry market), then just quit right now and free up that investment capital for companies that at least think they’re up to it.

  25. zuzu says:

    in order to make money on music they’ll force artists to quit pumping out filler crap songs and produce more hits. They’ll take the approach Barry Gordy did and issue a directive to produce only hits or get fired.

    Except that, at the same time, popular hits are also rapidly becoming obsolete as a business model.

    All the more reason to focus on distribution — the infrastructure of commerce — rather than engaging in commerce directly, just as Chris Anderson suggests in The Long Tail.

    Warehousing inventory, such as signing artists and physical albums, is a white elephant for the music labels.

  26. pellaeon says:

    Alt text: “I have lost every other piece of DRM-locked music I have paid for.”

    So I totally agree with the sentiment, but the singling out of iTunes is a little obnoxious, as I doubt Randall Munroe has any iTunes music. He admits in the alt text he’s mostly purchased DRM’ed music from sources that have gone out of business or otherwise closed shop… probably run by companies less reputable than Apple. DRM sucks, but don’t single out Apple when you can’t even get iTunes for your OS of choice. They haven’t pulled this crap on anyone… yet.

  27. Paul says:

    @aocole

    Randall was making exactly your point. That piracy gives you a better product. More importantly it is pointing out that with DRMed media, you are inevitably going to end up breaking the law at some point.

    @clif

    That would be an option if it was all available.

    Personally, I have just discovered 7digital.com, and will probably never buy anything from iTunes again. And before you think I’m an Apple hater, I’m typing this on my MacBook.

    Paul

  28. cmpalmer says:

    I like the convenience of iTunes and I do look from the non-DRM’ed tracks whenever possible. In fact, about a year ago, I said that I wouldn’t ever buy another physical CD unless I was really desperate. After all, even the non-DRM’ed iTunes tracks can be burned and re-ripped (which is, of course, the type of piracy that XSCD is talking about).

    Recently, though, the hassle of back-ups, the fear of losing my licenses for songs that I haven’t go around to rescuing from DRM, the availability of used CD’s, and the fact that a few CD’s I’ve really wanted (like the new Thea Gilmore album) took a long time to reach the iTunes store have led me to agree with AOCOLE: Whenever possible, buy CD’s and rip them. Extra points for buying them directly from the artist (and not buying them used) as that benefits the artists and not the record companies.

    Of course, if I’m really looking for a couple of songs and I know I’ll have to order the CD because the crappy local stores won’t have it, iTunes is a viable alternative. It’s evil, but not too terribly evil.

    I did get tired of shelves of jewel cases, some cracked, some missing or containing the wrong CDs because my kids took them out and didn’t return them correctly, so I bought a few of the really big CD binders, rescued the cover inserts, moved all the inserts and CDs to the binders, and dumped all of the jewel cases. This was also a good opportunity to rip the ones I hadn’t ripped yet.

  29. aocole says:

    @ #8 PAUL: My point was not “That piracy gives you a better product,” and an implied “so pirate”, but that media producers need to offer a better alternative to DRM in order to compete with readily-available pirated versions– and I mean “compete” in the business sense. My beef with the comic is that it suggests that the only alternative to DRM is piracy, and justifies piracy by playing on the false idea that consumers have a right to get any media in any format they choose.

  30. Jeff says:

    In the future, when most of our books are digital (gods forbid), how will publishers keep books that are fresh off the digi-press from being pirated like… well like music? Let’s ask a publisher! Yo, Mr. futurist publisher, from Tor (name any publisher you want), do you plan on using DMR for all those digital books that are going to be downloaded into e-readers? Because as far as I know, writers do not make a living reading their books live, as musicians do with their music. To ignore this issue tells me that it’s real, and that people just don’t want to look that far down the road. Which would be ironic for the SF community.

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