Some day in the near future you will purchase a digital audio or video recording and find that it doesn’t work exactly as you expect it to. Maybe it will simply stop playing after a few days, or perhaps you won’t be able to convert it for use on your portable media player, or maybe you won’t be able to skip past the annoying promos at the start of the program. When this happens you can blame Digital Rights Management (DRM) for your dissatisfaction.
While we talk a lot about DRM here on Medialoper, it’s not at all clear that everyone understands what we’re talking about. In fact, a 2005 survey of European digital music consumers (PDF file) revealed that 63% had never even heard of DRM, while 23% had heard of DRM but weren’t sure what it was. There’s no reason to believe that American consumers are any more well informed on the issue.
“If consumers even know there’s a DRM, what it is, and how it works, we’ve already failed”
Peter Lee, Disney Executive
Apparently some people believe that the success of their future business models depend on keeping consumers in the dark about DRM. If you ask me, that’s a recipe for disaster. The sad truth of the matter is that DRM schemes are rarely seamless and almost never interoperable. The result is that consumer need to be increasingly aware of DRM limitations and compatibility issues when purchasing digital media or technology products.
It’s in the best interest of media companies to be upfront about DRM restrictions and to help educate consumers about the limitations associated with DRM encoded media products. Media and technology companies that try to pretend that DRM limitations have no affect on the consumer experience will eventually find themselves the targets of a consumer backlash.
Unfortunately it seems unlikely that the purveyors of DRM restricted content will suddenly mount an educational campaign designed to help consumers understand that their Zune tunes simply won’t play in their iPod (and vice versa).
In any other industry an issue of this sort would merit legislation requiring clear labeling of the products in questions. Consumers of DRM restricted media products should have the right to consult a standardized labeling system that clearly delineates usage restrictions and compatibility issues.
While we can agitate for DRM labeling, it doesn’t seem likely that Washington will take up this cause anytime soon. And so it’s up to us (literally, us here at Medialoper, as well as you the reader) to do our part to educate the masses about DRM.
To this end, the Center For Democracy and Technology (CDT) has created a a system of metrics for evaluating DRM.
These metrics are intended to help journalists and product reviewers understand and evaluate the implications of DRM systems. CDT is also encouraging product and media reviewers to include information about DRM restrictions in their reviews.
You only have to read mainstream media coverage of recent digital media developments to know that most business, technology, and media writers are in real need of this sort of guidance. All too frequently we read stories about DRM related products without seeing any mentioning DRM. Or worse, articles will mention DRM in passing as if all DRM systems are the same and interoperable.
You don’t need to be a journalist, product reviewer, or consumer advocate to help educate consumers about DRM. If you’ve read this far you obviously have an interest in issues related to digital media, consumer rights, and DRM. I encourage you to take a half hour to read the CDT report and educate yourself, then start spreading the word.