DRM and Interoperability

DRM & Interoperability(Photo credits: Alexia’s)

Another negative impact of DRM on the market and consumer choice is the fact that it leads to the creation of interoperable technologies. Due to the proprietary nature of DRM technologies, the technology will only be accessible by devices and services that license the technology from the original manufacturer and users will not be able to circumvent the DRM just to be able to access the media on unauthorized devices even if they have legally purchased the locked up files.

This has the result of locking up consumers into specific brands of technology as the more they invest in purchasing digital content with DRM the more difficult for them it would be to abandon their investment in that content in order to use a competing technology. For example, videos purchased from the Apple iTunes store is protected by Apple FairPlay DRM which cannot be played on any portable multimedia device other than those manufactured by Apple itself.

Some consumers are also not aware of the nature of restriction imposed on the use of goods they use before they purchase them. An example of this would be copy-protected music CDs that cannot be played on PCs.

This lack of interoperability is one of the major problems with DRM. Akester suggests that a number of popular DRM technologies were circumvented because there was no legal way for the users to access the content they purchased on the Linux operating system. For example, the DeCSS technology used for circumventing the CSS protection on DVD was first made on the Linux to allow playback of DVDs on that operating system. Apple’s FairPlay DRM was also circumvented on the Linux OS because Apple never released a Linux version of iTunes.

In addition to the direct detriment on consumers, DRM’s lack of interoperability could have anti-competitive effects as companies acquire a vertical monopoly over the creation tools of the content, the distribution channels of the content, and the devices that play the content. Apple was the obvious example of this situation during the days when it sold songs with DRM, however, market pressure forced Apple to persuade the major labels to sell their music on the iTunes Store. However, it can still be argued that Apple is practicing anti-competitive activities in the way it sells video content (which is still served with DRM). Catherin Stromdale says that Microsoft has also been accused of being anti-competitive with its Windows Rights Management service which can be used with any Windows data.