Australian DRM from 1923 – dumb radio idea that refuses to die

In 1923, radio was introduced to Australia, complete with a scheme for "analog rights management" that presaged the dumbest anti-copying/anti-use schemes of the modern day. In the early years of Aussie radio, the radios were sold permanently tuned to a single frequency, sealed shut to prevent their owners from changing the channel. Each broadcaster had its own model of radio that it sold to the public, one that could only receive its programmes, and this was how the stations made money. The system lasted less than two years and was a complete failure.

The regulations were approved in July, the first licence was applied for in August and by the end of the year six had been issued. By March 1924 it was widely held that the sealed set system had failed: Less than 1400 listeners bothered to (officially) apply for a subscription.

The scheme was not only unenforceable but it also was not supported by the wireless dealers, therefore the main responsibility for the day-to-day operation of the scheme was placed in the hands of those most likely to undermine it (Counihan, 1992: 14): Of course the dealers weren't enthusiastic about selling some crippled technology that potentially could receive dozens of stations – and neither were the customers who resorted to 'piracy'. In short: "It was obvious that the sealed set scheme was doomed from the start" (Harte, 2002: 56).


(Thanks, Parker!)