DRM Controversy

June 2, 2007


When you buy a song or a software program, who really owns it? You or the company who sold it to you?

Songs purchased from Itunes or other sites often come with Digital Rights Management which puts all sorts of restrictions on what you can do with the file. For example, you can’t just give it away to all your friends or download it to 300 Ipods.

DRM restrictions are so annoying to me that I refuse to buy any music if it comes with them. I believe that if I buy a song, it is mine and I should be able to do whatever I want with it. As far as I’m concerned, there is no fundamental difference between digital files and CD’s. Sure, it’s way easier to distribute electronic files than it was to make CD copies but that is beside the point. Steve Jobs certainly agrees and has been trying (with some success) to get the record companies that supply music to Itunes to drop their demands that the music come with DRM protections. So, for music, I think DRM will eventually go away.

For software though, it seems to be here to stay. Have you ever tried to download Turbo Tax, Microsoft Office or Windows on more than one computer? Well, you can’t… you have to buy a second copy at full price. This is annoying but tolerable.

What’s far worse is usage restrictions on software that you already have downloaded on your computer. Last year, at great expense to my then-employer, I enrolled in the Becker CPA review course. It comes with software which has review questions and practice tests. You have exactly one year to use the software after you download it onto your computer. After that, it stops working and there’s nothing you can do about it. To get it reactivated, I was offered a “returning student discount” of $450!

What an insult!! We are talking about basic software, not an online course. What if book publishers put limitations on how long you could read a book before the internal explosive mechanism destroyed it? Obviously, nobody would buy books from that publisher! There is no fundamental difference here. If they wanted to put time restrictions on the practice questions, they should have put the entire thing online. Your access to the website would expire after one year. This is my software and I should be able to use it forever.