Pay for DRM Digital Goods and Get Screwed

In yet another data point for why you should never commit your cash to any digital good that is protected by DRM, Yahoo Music is shutting down their authorization servers this fall. What I just said goes double for anything that requires a server hit to authorize or reauthorize. Some day, the server will not be there, because the company has gone out of business or been purchased or, like Yahoo, just decided it is too much trouble to provide ongoing service of the goods you bought in good faith. Pay attention everyone, because sooner or later this is what happens to everything purchased digitally and protected by DRM that requires central servers.

I used to be in this business when I worked for Intertrust. I’m still working off the karmic debt for that (although getting screwed up the butt on the failed stock was a big downpayment). At the time DRM seemed rational enough and now I have completely reversed that opinion. The worst part is that almost always, these goods have a price markup because of the costs of the DRM provider in the chain. In reality, they should be discounted because of the lowered utility to you and the risk you bear of one day not being able to listen to your songs or watch your movies or play your games.

At Intertrust. our system worked by generating keys that were based on a fingerprint of your system. If you changed anything, the fingerprint changed and the keys stopped working, needing a new one to be served. That would include reinstalling the OS, changing a hard drive or MAC address, etc. Basically, make any substantive change to the hardware or OS and you invalidate those digital goods. That is the fate awaiting all the Yahoo Music customers (both of them.) Things will work up until a change and then it is over. Eventually something will fail or you will buy a new computer and there goes that.

So my friends, pay attention to this. It’s time to cut off this style of doing business at the wallet by dropping the demand for such goods to zero. If you trust the market like most libertarian leaning geeks, making sure there is no profit in DRM will get rid of it more effectively than a million words of rhetoric. I’ve bought digital goods that I can no longer access and that will never happen again. It’s not unlike the group dynamics of vaccination or going on strike – it only takes a small percentage of group members breaking out to undermine the whole effort. Don’t pay for DRM goods and help the digital world.