Sony should win a lifetime achievement award for its efforts to help raise consumer awareness about the problems inherent in DRM technology. It seems like every time the company attempts to “innovate’ in the area of DRM the effort backfires in a manner that ends up demonstrating just how bad DRM can really be.
Sony’s latest misadventure involves recently released DVD titles that are reportedly unplayable on a number of widely available DVD players, including several of the company’s own models. The problem originally gained attention on an Amazon forum when consumers began to compare notes about their inability to view the film Stranger Than Fiction.
Initially Sony denied there was a problem. Technicians at the company’s consumer help line explained that Sony had implemented a new form of DVD copy protection and that it was up to the manufacturers of individual DVD players to upgrade their firmware. The same Sony help technicians also explained that there was no timetable for the release of a firmware update that would allow Sony DVD players to play the new Sony DVDs.
It wasn’t so long ago that Sony ran into problems when it attempted to protect standard audio CDs with a new copy protection scheme. As DRM disasters go, the Sony rootkit fiasco was a bad idea to begin with. With only a few exceptions consumers have never had to deal with DRM on audio CDs. Thanks to Sony, it’s likely that we’ll never see widespread implementation of DRM on standard audio discs.
DRM on DVDs is quite a bit different, however. As Steve Jobs notes, video content has always been copy protected. While the Content Scramble System (CSS) doesn’t actually protect DVD content, at least the protection scheme works across devices manufactured by different companies. Sony has essentially managed to break one of the few DRM systems that is relatively device independent. In the process, they’ve probably enlightened more than a few consumers about the problems of DRM — consumers who may never have thought seriously about the issue otherwise.
If there’s a punch line to this story, it’s this: Several SlashDot readers reported that they were able to view the DVDs by using widely available DVD ripping software to transfer the disc content to their PCs. That’s right, Sony’s new DRM system is incompatible with some Sony DVD players AND it is does nothing to prevent users from ripping the content to an unencrypted digital format. Talk about worthless technology.
As a final note, yesterday Sony apparently admitted that this whole issue is the result of a recent update to a secondary DRM system that the company uses in addition to the standard CSS copy protection system. Sony will apparently be modifying (and hopefully testing) the secondary DRM system. The company has indicated it will be replacing discs that consumers are unable to view.