Console, Games, Music, Books & DRM

Something that I feel has been bubbling under my threshold of rage for the past little while is the ever increasing presence of DRM in my life and all the problems it’s causing me.  So I’m going to talk a little bit about why I’m so opposed to it.

First up, let me get this straight from the very beginning, I fully support the writers, developers, artists etc.  A number of good friends of mine make their living in the creative industries and they deserve to get paid for the awesome work they do.

Right then DRM first; this is the core of all the problems and, in my opinion, also the cause of a lot of piracy as the more intrusive the DRM gets the higher the incentive the get the pirated version.  DRM stands for Digital Rights Management, it is basically a way that the providers of content (note this is not the creators) or the creators of hardware trying to assert their ownership of the thing you have just purchased.

Now you can probably tell from my wording above that I have a huge bias here, I HATE DRM and all that it stands for, the DRM/Walled Garden model is one of the primary reasons I have such a problem with Apple and their products.  DRM is, in my opinion, actively harmful to the development of new technology and any kind of creative innovation as well as a method of actively punishing consumers.

The pro-DRM group always try to make the case that we are not purchasing the product only a licence to use it under conditions they can specify.  This is bullshit in my opinion.  If I buy something I own it, I can modify it and resell it however I want and you can all fuck the hell off.

Again, in danger of getting a bit ranty about that, so moving on….

But what about the pirates?

The reason often given for companies calling for stricter DRM and other controls is that piracy is costing them a fortune, this is (I believe) a total lie.  Most people who have downloaded a pirated album, game or movie simply wouldn’t have bothered to buy the product in the first place, hence why the figures quoted by the ass-hats over at the RIAA & MPAA (I’m using the American organisations in this example as they are both louder and more obviously evil that the UK versions) are nonsensical.

DRM & The Future Games market

This is the problem at the moment, the reliance on DRM and the legal ‘stick’ is now at a point where it is actively harming things.  I know several people who are massively into the computer games scene who have actively refused to by recently released titles because of the requirement for an always on internet connection for DRM verification.  I also know at least one or two who went out and purchased the game, then downloaded the pirated version just because it was a more fun experience without the intrusive DRM.

Microsoft have suggested that the next generation Xbox may require you to have an always on internet connection to play _any_ game at all, if that’s the case then I simply won’t be buying one, same with Sony and the next gen Playstation, if it requires an always on connection then I’m simply not buying it.

Read All About It

Ok then, books.  Everyone loves a book (or should do in my opinion) and eBooks have exploded onto the scene in the past couple of years, unfortunately this again brings up the topic of embedded DRM.

I have a Kindle (which I have fallen utterly in love with) and I am fully aware of the DRM issues surrounding Amazon’s format and the limitations an eBook has, for example I cannot lend or gift an eBook to anyone at the moment, which is quite annoying, and I cannot buy a Kindle book as a gift yet.  Hopefully these things will come and in general Amazon is considerably less evil than Apple.

The biggest issue for me at the moment is the stupid pricing in the UK, we are charged VAT on eBooks (an extra 20%) but not of the physical ones, this means that in a lot of cases an eBook is actually more expensive than its dead tree counterpart despite having much cheaper manufacturing costs (i.e. the layout and upload to Amazon).

What This Means for Me

Pretty basic, I object to DRM in all its forms and companies who consistently endorse stronger controls on these things will be companies I will not be doing business with.

My thoughts on BYOD

There is a culture emerging in some business which is being termed BOYD or Bring Your Own Device.  The meaning of this term is that employees are being encouraged (or in some places required) to buy their own laptop/tablet/smartphone for use at their place of work.

Now this is an interesting and somewhat concerning change to established business culture.  While I like the idea of moving away from the homogenous presentation of computers and devices I would not ever consider spending my cash on a device that would be for work use.

I have a Smartphone, a home PC and a games console, I have no real need for a laptop and while I could probably find a personal use for a tablet (as long as it was not an iPad) I would be hard pressed to see a business value for it.

This could be accused of being ‘old guard’ thinking, digging in my heels and refusing to accept change, I would argue that is isn’t.  If a device is going to be used for the benefit of a company that I work for (and again I accept that if I was self-employed this would be become a much less important distinction) then they can pay for it frankly.

I don’t make enough money to be able to afford to splash out on all the devices I would like to and if I do they are going to be my devices and not subject to snooping by my employer.

There are a number of things that I think prevent the idea of BYOD from truly taking hold, there are:

  1. Reasonable Expectation of Privacy. If it’s my device then I have an expectation of privacy, whatever is on it is my content and other people are not going to be allowed access to it without a court order.  However if it’s a business device, I have no expectation of privacy, it is not owned by me and while the company may agree to allow me to make some use of it for personal purposes (web surfing , document storage, hobby use) it is ultimately theirs and they can at any point deny me access to it or require I return it to them.
  2. Cost & Ownership.  These devices are not cheap and if I was being expected to pay for it then I own it and the company has no rights to it, if it is part funded by the company and part by myself then how does that get resolved when we part ways?  Does one by the other out, what if neither wants to sell?
  3. Security.  Part of the reason why most businesses have a standard type of computer is that they have a standard build of operating system and applications that are installed across all machines.  This coupled with the network policies and access to passwords means that the business can control access to the device and (in the case of Blackberry and some tablets with the correct software installed) remote wipe them as needed.

Those are the top three, I’m sure I could think of many more given time.

So what is the way around this and do we even need a change?  I think we do need a change, people are becoming more and more tech-savvy and developing their own preferences of device, for example you could not pay me enough to work on a Mac and there are people out there who feel the same way about PCs.  Same goes for a phone, I would use an iPhone only under duress and if it was issued to me, I would never buy one for myself, equally I know people who never willingly use an Android device or Blackberry.

People are developing preferences and opinions relating to use of technology and are expecting these preferences to be catered for.

This need will I’m sure drive the development and adoption of new technologies to enable this, VMware for example are developing a piece of software called Horizon Mobile that allows you to have a virtual business area on your personal smartphone, one that can be secured and wiped remotely.  This is, I believe, the most likely course of future development.

As devices such as smartphones, laptops and tablets become more commonly owned by employees the demand for technologies such as this will become more and more.  Being able to install and access a virtual drive or OS that has all your work related documents on board is a nice compromise, however it still requires you to be willing to give access to your device to your employer and it requires the employer to give an equal amount of trust in return.

If anyone has read Rule 34 by Charles Stross there is a good idea in there, where everyone has a personalised cloud based virtual machine that is copied down to generic tablet type devices as need, thus your business and personal personas can be maintained separately and on the same hardware.

I guess this whole thing reaches further and touches on the subject of personal privacy and separation of personal and business lives, both of which are things I have pretty strong opinions on and may write more about in the future.  In any case I think I shall leave this long and rambling post with the statement that I think the BOYD culture is going to continue to expand and while I personally would not be comfortable giving up more of my personal life to my employer I can see the bonuses of allowing your employees to choose their own devices.

For anyone interested in the article that spurred this, it can be found here on the BBC News site: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-17017570