I don't know why we still have DRM.

6 min read • 9 July, 2021.

In the early 2000s, we had a boom in what we could do as consumers with tech. It wasn't just for programmers or people who needed fancier calculators, but it could be something viable to use. It could give you games for your kids, be a place to watch a few shorts off Go.com (back in its glory days; not for selling Disneyland tickets), or a way to not only listen to your music but buy new songs to put on media players. Around that time, there was one notion: you buy it, you own it. You buy a CD, you own that CD and can rip it to have those songs in a digital format. You buy a movie on DVD, you own that DVD and can rip it to have a backup of that movie for things like Plex and Kodi (when they came around, of course).

More and more, I think that notion is dead, be it for better or worse. When free music streaming services (primarily Spotify and Rhapsody/Napster) as well as other streaming services for T.V., and movies came around, the amount of people buying or pirating albums went down, without a doubt, since more people could access what would have been a paid album in exchange for a few ads and a lower quality stream.

It's restrictive

One of the main reasons this wasn't too different from buying songs digitally, as aforementioned, was because either way, you'd be dealing with a DRM of sorts. DRM does one of two things, depending on who you ask. If you ask those who still use it, they'll tell you that it's a necessity that protects their trademarks and prevents piracy. If you ask those who are pirates, disabled, or who still like to own things, it removes the ability for you to have control over what you just bought. iTunes used to use a file called a .M4P, which is just like the .M4A of today, but with a DRM technology called FairPlay. This means that that song can only be used in iTunes and on Apple devices. This DRM essentially limits where you can use the things you buy. This doesn't sound all that bad when under a microscope; say if you only use iDevices and the sort. Unfortunately, it does not end there.

It encumbers

A couple of years ago, I was going through some old purchases on my iTunes account looking for a certain song I bought after Apple decided to go to the .M4A format, and noticed I was missing a few things. Although I may have bought a movie that's since left the iTunes Store, I can no longer watch or save that movie. I never technically bought it to own; I bought it for the right to watch it, which is another issue in it of itself. DRM prevents you from being able to still use certain things after the company behind it disappears, the product gets restricted in your country, or the company just decides to bully you; a prime example being the trouble in paradise with Ubisoft sunsetting some servers. Would you be surprised if I said it doesn't end there somehow? Fun fact: it does not.

It causes inconveniences

If you've ever seen a picture of me or have seen my face (*gasp*), you'll know I wear glasses. At some point, my eyes decided to turn against me and, since then, it's pretty hard to read anything without glasses, unless it's pretty close to my face (say 8 centimetres or so, if I had to take a guess). For that reason, when I just wake up and need to turn off the alarm on my phone or need to just quickly text someone back before bed, I usually use the screen reader baked into iOS (which is insanely useful, even when I'm wearing glasses). Due to how ebooks are formatted, unfortunately, I can't use a screen reader for a large portion of them. Fortunately, tools like Calibre makes it painless to fix these accessibility issues. Unfortunately, ebooks are almost always in a form of DRM, making those who have worse vision to me, virtually incapable of reading a lot of books.

It gives another reason to do what it's meant to prevent

If you ask a pirate why they do what they do, it's usually because they don't want to pay for the thing they pirate. Always have, and always will not be a fan of those people. There are others that either pirate because they already bought it, but can't use it because of DRM (Ubisoft example is a prime one, once again) or they don't want to support more DRM. At the end of the day, all DRM does is encourage people to pirate more. People can't let a friend read a few chapters of an e-book, listen to an album, or play a bit of game, before deciding to buy it for themselves; whereas, with a physical copy, you can loan a book, CD, or CD-ROM/cartridge to a friend for them to try it before they buy it.

The bright side

Fortunately, there is a little sunny side to everything. Humble Bundle and GOG have worked hard on providing DRM-free games, with Humble also doing occasional sales of comic, manga, and book bundles. The Library of Congress has made it possible for those who cannot access e-book content to legally void the DRM and be able to make them functional for their media needs (Article 3, §A §§1) (be it screen readers, refreshable Braille displays, et al). In other words, more and more companies are starting to wake up to understanding that this a change that we should be making and can only help bring in more income (unless everyone returns to LimeWire😉).

Conclusion

I have a good amount of physical media still these days. I have almost every Tintin book, buy almost all of my console game physically (mainly because it's far cheaper), buy CDs, novels, comics/manga, and the likes. However, when I run out of shelf space or if the thinkable happens (California fires), I'd like to have some way to still enjoy the things I've spent money on. Sure, it's not the same. Some people will say you can't smell the paper (which is a little weird to me still, but whatever helps you sleep at night), or truly own it (what happens if your drives fail and your backup disappears). But, I want to be able to enjoy things the way I need to.

And, as a freebie to tech giants, publishers, and the sort: I'd be more than willing to pay a few extra bucks for a version I can use (sans DRM), but it's time the entertainment industry takes after the music industry with DRM: gut it on purchases, keep it on streaming.

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