DRM, digital rights management is quite possibly the holy grail of the music and movie industry, allowing them to control exactly how DRM protected content is used, distributed, and above all, can be tracked right down to the individual end user. The way it works is that the content you buy is encrypted and can only be unlocked and played back if you follow and adhere to the requirements set forth by the producer exactly. This usually means that content can only be unlocked after connection to a DRM license server. This server will only send you an unlock key when you meet all of the requirements. This could mean that the content can be played back on just a specific device, or in a specific country, or worse, all of the above and only for a set period of time. I used to think that this isnít necessarily a bad thing, as although Iím convinced that the whole idea of p2p-ing music and movies has hurt sales tremendously is simply a misrepresentation of the truth, I do think that copyrights should be protected, if needed by DRM. As long as it doesnít restrict me too much in how I can use the content I bought I have no problems with using DRM, much like I find that registering a piece of software online with a product key is perfectly acceptable.
DRM is actually a part of Microsoftís Windows XP operating system and has been for a while, but it wasnít until I picked up a DVD recently that I witnessed the ugly and very user unfriendly side of DRM in person. The DVD in question, T2: Extreme DVD, produced by Artisan Home Entertainment Inc., is a two-dvd disk set, which holds a digitally optimized version of the T2 movie on one disk, and a high definition version of the same movie on the second disk, encoded in WMV9 format. As I already own a, legitimate, copy of T2 that wasnít the reason I bought the two-dvd disk set, I was looking forward to playing back the hd version, which promises the very best image quality. This would be a great way for me to enjoy the full potential of my, hd capable, home theater installation. To make sure I could make full use of the DVD I double-checked the cover for any requirements on the computer hardware, or any region specific coding. The DVD cover was clear about the minimum requirements in terms of computer hardware for playback of the WMV9 content and since it had no warnings of the content being protected or only playable in certain regions I saw no reason to not buy it.
The two-disk T2 Extreme dvd set with WMV9 hd content, click here for a full size image.
Unfortunately, after trying to play the DVD back with Windows Media Player 9, I couldnít get it to work. For some reason I needed to install a 3rd party application, InterActual Player, that was required to play back the content. I was a bit surprised as to why I needed to install InterActual Player as it clearly says Windows Media Player 9 on the cover. Why canít I simply play the content back without having to install yet another application? But then it became quickly apparent that I did not only have to install and download an update for the InterActual Player over the internet in order to facilitate playback, but would also need to acquire a license. So obviously the WMV9 content on the DVD was protected by DRM and could only be unlocked after connecting to the license server to obtain a license, which it failed to do. I was surprised to find that it failed to give me a license as it had determined that my physical location was not in the US or Canada. Apparently the content was only to be played back in either one of these countries and nowhere else. After routing my IP address through an anonymous proxy server in the US I however managed to unlock the content just as well and was presented with a license agreement I had to agree to prior to being able to play the content back.
That agreement, amongst other things, stated that I could only play back the content for a period of five days, on the computer I installed the InterActual Player application onto, after which I had to re-acquire a license. To be honest that really pissed me off, I spent about an hour trying to play back a disc I legitimately bought and went as far as installing and updating a 3rd party application to my system that would allow me to do so, and now Iím only being given a temporary license, whereís my rights as a consumer? If this is how future DRM protected content will be distributed I have strong objections to the use of DRM, as this is a prime example of how to quickly alienate any prospective consumers. If a license is given and the content decrypted isnít it clear that Iím the rightful owner? Canít I decide for myself when and where I want to play this content back on? Obviously Artisan Home Entertainment Inc. has other ideas about that, ideas they should clearly communicate on the DVD cover, instead of simply omitting them to prevent people not buying this two-disk DVD set. Shame on you Artisan Home Entertainment Inc. and may this serve as a prime example of DRM at its worst.