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What’s Wrong With Digital Rights Management?

You may have heard a lot of talk about DRM, or you may be completely new to the concept, but in either case it’s wise for us to set up a basic explanation of what Digital Rights Management is before we talk about what’s wrong with it. DRM is a form of access control, or gate-keeping technology. What DRM does is secure digital products against unauthorized use.

So from the standpoint of someone looking at releasing their work into the world, it seems to make sense to have DRM be a part of your picture, but the truth of the matter is that it is not so cut and dried as all that. In fact, DRM has major flaws.

There are a number of reasons for this, but one of the most important ones is the fact that DRM puts restrictions on the people who have paid for a product. The people who have become your customers are often the ones hurt most by DRM. Hardly a just reward for paying you, is it?drm1

A recent example of DRM that has caused an uproar due to how poor it makes the customer experience is the multimillion copy selling video game Diablo III. The way the protection on the product works that it forces each player to be logged into a game server at all times during play. This means that despite the fact that it is playable by between one and four people, the actual game play is dependent on the presence and speed of an internet connection, even if only one player is involved in the game.

Buyers of the product is that they are not only required to have an internet connection present, they need to ensure that it is of sufficient quality to reach the servers of the game reliably. In many cases, this is functionally impossible (in the cases of audiences in regions with poor connectivity, like much of middle America) or extremely cost-prohibitive.

Still, you may be thinking this is a reasonable stance, as it ensures that only people who have paid for this game can use it. Sure, it inconveniences people, but it protects the intellectual property of the company selling the product, right? You would be incorrect in that assumption. Within a week of the game reaching the market it was “hacked” to work offline. It is now possible to download the entire game and play it without paying for it. Thus pirate access has not been prevented by this application of DRM. And as we have established, legitimate consumers are being inconvenienced on a daily basis.

You need to understand that all DRM can be broken. DRM applied to audio, ebooks, PDFs, games, video, and more is not going to keep anyone who is determined from breaking the protections you have put into place. This can be as simple as retyping a book (people can pay a tiny amount to workers in third world nations to do this) into a DRM-free format, or as complex as breaking into executable code and building fake servers to fool a video game into working when it shouldn’t. It can and will be broken, so there is no actual protection offered outside of guarding against the kind of people who are very unlikely to be interested in illegally accessing your product.

In the end, the best protection you can offer your work is to make sure it is a good quality effort which has been priced reasonably. These factors will combine to make it more desirable for people to pay you for the product, and will serve to help sway individuals who have acquired your product through piracy to purchase legitimate copies in the end. One major barrier to acquisition of products is their perceived value. The better you position your product in terms of value, the better protection it is! Best of all: doing so is completely free. You don’t have to pay for a DRM solution, you simply have to make good choices regarding the content of your product, and its price point.

The underlying reason here is that people want good value in their products. They tend to “steal” things that they have no intention of buying, so the concept of an illegally accessed copy of your work equating to lost revenue is feeble at best. Most people do not have more money than they spend, and if they have already determined that your product is not worth buying, they won’t buy it, even if they can’t obtain a bootleg copy.

But that means that there’s good news when people do get to download your product for free. Since they are now in possession of your product, you have the chance to let your work shine through and convince them that they should in fact spend money on it, or on other products from your company. Many illegal downloads are converted into sales, when given the choice, the person who illegally downloaded the product in the first place would never have even tried the product had it not been available for free.

So instead of investing in costly, ineffective access control, skip the DRM and hope that people do spread the word about your products. Because nothing sells more than word of mouth, and the more mouths that are exposed to what you have to offer, the more sales you can make.

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