Friday, July 24, 2009

DRM and digital devices

Two incidents have come up recently which illustrate the problems with modern electronic devices.

The first happened with Amazon's Kindle e-book reader. Recently they discovered that the company that was selling electronic versions of George Orwell's works did not have the rights to do this. If this had happened with a printed book then money would change hands between publishers and booksellers but people who actually had a printed copy of the book could keep them.

In the new digital age, this has changed. Amazon remotely deleted the books (along with any notes that students had been keeping) and refunded people their money. This is a reminder that you are not buying a book, you are paying for the rights to read a book. The rights are subject to many more restrictions than a physical book.

Amazon announced that it has changed its internal procedures and will not do something like this again - unless it changes its procedures again.

The other incident involves Apple's iTunes and the Palm Pre. When the Palm was released, one of its features was that it could load music directly from iTunes. Apple recently pushed out an update to iTunes that stopped non-Apple devices from connecting to it (the Pre is the only non-Apple device that can connect). Palm just released an update that restores this feature.

Again, with iTunes you are not buying music. From Apple's point of view, you are buying the right to listen to music on specific devices - theirs. Loading music that you have paid for onto an unauthorized device is a violation of their license and they have the right to stop it. This will probably hurt Apple in the long run. Once someone has paid for something they don't like it being tied to a particular manufacturer.

Sony learned this the hard way. Since Sony has both a media publishing arm and a hardware arm, the media wing was able to impose restrictions on their media players. Sony never released an MP3 player. Their digital players used a proprietary format that only they supported. No one was interested. They wanted to play MP3s.

Apple got around this two different ways. The first was that iPods can play MP3s. Most of the music on iPods was ripped from CDs (yours or someone else's). The other way is that Apple's DRM is fairly light-weight and their price per song is so low that people don't worry about it.

Imagine what would happen to the iPod market if Apple did what Amazon did - remotely removed content that people had paid for. They can do this with the iPhone.

The bottom line here is that there are still major issues with digital rights that have not been solved.

No comments: