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Wanna Hear Something Stupid?

October 3, 2008

So, DRM is really dumb. Like, really really really dumb. Wait, dont’ stop reading. I promise this is vaguely funny and interesting to non-techs.

This is something friends of mine have been railing about for some time now, and I’ve generally agreed with them. But, if you want a quickie example of how dumb DRM is I have one for you.

Quickly, DRM stands for ‘Digital Rights Management’. Basically it’s copy protection for media, like video or music. It comes into play A LOT with online media, like streaming content from websites. Netflix, for example, uses a really agressive form of DRM that requires you download software and tweak around with Windows Media Player. I really like the Netflix streaming service. It’s fantastic, great selection, great video quality. However, for about three months now I’ve been unable to use it. No idea why, Netflix techs couldn’t help me. Tonight I finally resolved to get it figured out, and walked through a bunch of steps with the techs. Well, we got it figured out.

See, the streaming service was complaining that my DRM hoozits was bad. The response from the techs is to use a little piece of software in your Netflix software folder to ‘reset your DRM’. This basically wipes everything clean, and then requires you to ‘re-ok’ it with the server. I keep doing this, but Internet Explorer (the only browser this works with) keeps complaining. It turns out that the problem wasn’t with the software or with me or with the techs. It was actually with my computer. More specifically, my monitors.

Yes, that’s right, for once in the history of computing monitors were actually at fault. See, Vista is a cast-iron bitch about DRM. It’s incredibly incredibly picky about how you use the stuff YOU pay for. It monitors this use via various means, but one of them is through the high quality cables that monitors use nowadays. The DVI connection I use to both of my monitors is something Vista can ‘see’. It knows I’m displaying images from my two video cards to my two monitors, and it has control over what is displayed on those monitors.

It turns out that this particular type of DRM objects to being displayed to a secondary source. I use my secondary monitor as a TV, you see, playing  videogames or working while I ‘watch’ NBC or Monk or whatever on Hulu/CBS/Toonami/iTunes/etc. Windows Media Player hates that, though, because I COULD be putting out that secondary video to a recorder of some kind. I could be taking that secondary video feed and putting it on a DVD, or broadcasting it in public, or whatever.

So, it turns out, I’m fine to watch Netflix on my machine. I’m fine to watch anything I want on my secondary monitor. But I can’t watch Netflix on my secondary monitor, because I could concievably be making a recording of the crap that I’m already paying them to give me access to. The solution I’m offered by the techs is exactly what someone who actually WANTS to record that imagery would do: use a ‘dumber’ cable. But I don’t want to use a dumber cable; I want to watch my iTunes/etc. in as high a clarity image as possible. Were I ‘illegally’ pirating stuff off of Netflix, I’d have no such qualms. I’m sure Brian and Alan and Ben have another half dozen ways I could get around this if I wanted to actually record the video.

But I don’t. I just want to watch what I paid for while I play my games or work. I, a legitimate user, am being punished because of the baseless paranoia of Microsoft and movie studio executives.

DRM sucks, and it doesn’t work. Don’t let anybody tell you different.

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