Digital rights management

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They are watching you.

Digital rights management (DRM), also referred to as digital restrictions management by its critics, is an umbrella term used to describe a wide variety of minigames devised by copyright-holders to challenge the skills and acumen of those who wish to share their products. Though DRM was originally claimed to be "a groundbreaking measure to combat intellectual property right violations", the true intentions of the software became apparent once "cracked" copies of DRM-protected files began circulating online and offline, thus effectively nullifying whatever supposed positive effects DRM was supposed to have. People quickly realized that the relentless DRM protection of copyrighted content was actually a ploy to get them to fight for their freedom to share and distribute said content. In the words of some Anonymous hacker group "We felt so much pride after breaking open the crippling shackles of DRM from every iTunes download we made. It was almost as if getting past all the protection was a test, to see how badly we wanted to give away and share all the wonderful music and TV shows we'd acquired to the world! And after what we went through, we're more proud of our body of work than we ever were before!"

History and nature of DRM[edit | edit source]

After centuries almost a decade of "illegal sharing" of copyrighted content online, many innovative tech companies, like Apple and Microsoft began to negotiate with harried copyright holders to legitimize online distribution of their content. Realizing the futility of fighting to preserve the prevalence of systems that were tied up by limitations made obsolete by the openness of the internet, the copyright holders had a massive change of heart. However, they began to look even farther than Steve Jobs and Bill Gates ever could, and put up an elaborate act to cover up their new-found respect for who they called "Pirates of the World Wide Web."

Obstinance and Paranoia[edit | edit source]

And we'll reward you with rootkits!

Realizing that their vision could not be fulfilled without some trickery, most parties, when asked about licensing online distribution of their content, simply told the tech giants to "rot in hell with the thieves". This shocked the tech overlords, to the extent that they considered abandoning their noble cause. However, some cleverly planted leaks gave the tech overlords some hope, and eventually entertainment companies showed their willingness to license online distribution of their content, but "under one condition". This condition turned out to be "protecting" all their "authorized" online goods so that they couldn't be "illegally distributed" later on. The media moguls challenged the tech overlords to create the most sophisticated restrictions around the products, which would strike a balance between being considerate of consumer needs and the moguls' extensive profiteering needs.

The plan worked better than was initially anticipated. Microsoft and Sony had created DRM technologies that would literally force users to purchase a Sony Walkman/Zune in order to play the music and movies they downloaded, which would also be completely non-transferable to any other type of device. As it was plainly obvious that everybody rich enough not to be a thief would have bought such devices already, the tech overlords saw no problem with their plan. The copyright holders knew better, of course, but they happily egged Microsoft, Sony and all their other pawns along. They had their faith in the people at large.

And the public rose up to the challenge. Highly put-off by the heavy DRM restrictions placed on their "legally obtained" content many people-including those who had grown guilty of their pirating ways and wanted to turn over a new leaf-took to finding out ways to break the DRM restrictions so that they could go about transferring their content to their best friends' MP3 players like they used to. And sure enough, with enough patience, persistence and focus, the DRM programs were overridden, the restrictions removed, and the content made shareable again. The exhilaration and accomplishment of overriding the shackles tying their music down knew no bounds, and soon enough, people began distributing their "cracked" content online. Copyright holders raged and complained about the lack of respect of "their rights", and "the shameless acts of mass robbery taking place under our noses", but they would always meet in secret and toast the hackers who had overcome their DRM challenges and distributed their content far and wide. Now that they had fought for it, people would value the importance of sharing more than ever before. And the entertainment industry wasn't finished yet.

The elephant in the room[edit | edit source]

Some people had gotten incredibly close to the truth.

However, it wasn't long before the very ploys the media moguls had used to conceal their true motives began to backfire on them. People began complaining of the copyright holders' refusal to see reason, and began demanding that DRM restrictions be removed so that legitimate distribution of copyrighted content could flourish again. The copyright holders stuck to their original plan, bemoaning the rise of the internet and going as far as advocating the toning down of people's privacy rights and banning video-sharing websites such as YouTube.

The ploys worked, to an extent. The further alienation caused by the obstinacy of copyright holders resulted in ever increasing amounts of "cracked" content circulating throughout the internet, to the extent that DRM-protected content was now topping the "most-pirated charts" year after year. Video-gaming company Valve took this strategy to new heights when they announced that they would be providing "Steam", an annoying and invasive DRM program disguised as an "online gaming store", as a compulsory companion to every video game they now sold. The license agreement of Steam, which was bound to all their releases, further upset their loyal fans by stating that they didn't own the games, but were merely being provided with the privilege of playing them. And this privilege could be taken away from them if they didn't act like good boys and started pretending that piracy didn't exist.

But all their efforts weren't enough to completely alienate those who insisted that things be done "the right way". The pressure to either remove DRM, or make it "interoperable" grew on the copyright holders, and they decided to use stall tactics and other annoying measures to reinforce their "faceless, heartless corporation" image. Unfortunately, there was a mutiny in the music business when in 2009, the recording company EMI assented to Apple's suggestion of DRM-free music. All the critics who had been accusing iTunes of hypocrisy and malpractice were silenced, and suddenly, all other music companies followed suit, taking the easy way out and abandoning their master-plan. Their anti-piracy rhetoric became genuine once again, and with an increasing number of pro-copyright enthusiasts taking over social media, the battle for free distribution of copyrighted content seemed to have taken a major hit.

Damage control- video games and SOPA[edit | edit source]

It's all your fault you filthy pirates!

With recording companies rebelling, the remaining coalition of copyright-holders promptly attempted to do some damage control. They started out small. Film and television producers refused to follow suit and didn't allow Apple to remove DRM restrictions on their products. The MPAA and RIAA made shoddy, half-hearted efforts to take down pirating websites solely to piss off the public. There were also efforts involved to find and use irritable, overzealous actors who would make extremist statements and alienate their fans. Though this venture ultimately failed, video gaming companies stumbled upon a much more potent weapon-the fans themselves.

Opposition to video-game piracy had always been greater than the piracy of other forms of entertainment, and many loyal fans had always discouraged pirates from doing what they were doing by appealing to their conscience, and/or calling them gay virgin n00bs who should go kill themselves. These people also happened to be among those who spent massive amounts of money on "gaming passes", "fan club memberships" and other such gaming-related perks. In a masterstroke, video gaming companies began to promote their most loyal customers to powerful positions in online forums, such as those of "moderator". The immense results these measures brought were seen during the release of Bioshock, wherein a fundamentalist gamer who did not believe in fair use rights of copyrighted products was contracted as a tech support employee.[1] With the outrage over the DRM measures bundled with the game and the apparent douchebagottry paraded by 2K Games, the intention was to inflame the customers beyond the point of no return, so that "legitimate purchases" of the game would crash and the revolution would gain some much-needed momentum. Sadly, this didn't turn out to be the case and the intentionally repugnant SecuROM copy-protection that accompanied Bioshock and other such games was eventually dropped because the companies didn't want to feign a lack of common sense for too long.

Stop Online Piracy (not)[edit | edit source]

However, the trump card the copyright holders used in their master-plan wasn't the DRM software associated with any particular product. It was their attempt to DRM the entire internet. The Stop Online Piracy Act was introduced in order to shift the burden of blocking access to pirate websites to the websites that linked to them. Outrage soon followed once people came to realize the threat of severe litigation that may follow their difficulty in complying. As this act had the ability to put less-than-stinking-rich websites out of business, the internet went up in arms against it. However, the true intention of the act, which was to paint pro-copyright legislators as shitty lawmakers unworthy of public respect, had a minimal effect on public opinion, and the status quo eventually prevailed.

DRM-free software, and further challenges to the Master-Plan[edit | edit source]

Though the intentions behind DRM have not yet been completely realized, copyright holders remain optimistic about its potential, as can be seen with gaming companies like Blizzard incorporating always-online DRM in Diablo III. With this, and many more crippling DRM programs in the pipeline, the copyright holders hope to finally usher in the revolution they know will come eventually.

However, many obstacles remain, mainly due to the pro-copyright but anti-DRM lobbyists. Websites such as have begun offering DRM-free games, and iTunes is still trying to lift DRM restrictions off their movies and TV shows. But the big corporations spearheading this movement are more determined than ever to usher in a new world, one repugnant DRM measure at a time.

Footnotes[edit | edit source]