Should DAZ or other content creators use DRM?
DRM (short for Digital Rights Management) is a way for content creators to protect their creations from people who would share it or illegally redistribute it. In theory, this is a good idea: since the company pays its employees to make the content so customers should pay for it. (This doesn’t include content released for free.)
DRM goes back to the early days of video games, when the games would ask customers to type in a code found in the manual. If you didn’t purchase the game, you didn’t have the manual, so you can’t play the game.
But as time went by, people either “cracked” the game so it didn’t ask for a code or they simply included a text file of codes with the game.
Then other DRM methods were created, including requiring the customer to have the game CD in their computer. Again, the logic is: if a customer didn’t purchase the game, then he doesn’t have the CD, then he can’t play. And guess what? The “require CD” code was quickly disabled.
In 2005, Sony tried their own version of DRM by creating a “rootkit” on a user’s computer which would check to make sure the content was legally purchased. However, the rootkit also created a back door in the user’s computer which left it vulnerable to hackers and malware.
More than 10 years later, Sony’s still paying a price for its ham-handed DRM overreach today.
Another type of DRM is a hardware “dongle” that must be attached to the computer in order to use the software. Again, in theory, this sounds like a good idea since only people who legally paid for the software will have the dongle. In reality, all manner of things could happen to the dongle, from breaking, to not connecting, to just not working. So what happens when you’re on a deadline and you need to get a project done, but the dongle doesn’t want to work. And again, (because I can’t stress this enough), you can’t use a product that you paid for. For an interesting discussion about the dongle issue, read through the posts in this CGSociety Lightwave Forum or this discussion on The Foundry’s Forum about “Why dongles suck”.
There have been stories about how developers purchased Lightwave 3D (with the dongle), then put it on their shelves and then downloaded and installed an “illegal” copy just so they didn’t have to deal with the dongle. So what was the point of the dongle? The person would still purchase the software, but now they’re annoyed.
Another example is when EA released the latest version of SimCity. Their DRM was to require paying customers to log into a server to validate their purchase and play the game. Can you guess what happened next? That’s right- their servers were overloaded to the point where people couldn’t play the game they just paid for, which Results in Disaster For Gamers.
By contrast, it took hackers only a few days to create a “crack” that disabled this DRM… and guess what? The people who illegally downloaded the cracked version could play the game while the paying customers had to wait for EA’s servers to start working again. EA finally took the hint and EA Labels president Frank Gibeau said DRM is a failed dead-end strategy; it’s not a viable strategy for the gaming business.
Okay, but what about the future? Suppose the DRM works fine now, but what happens when you need to download or register some content in 5 or 10 years? Or, worse, what happens when a future operating system thinks the DRM acts too much like a virus? For example, some companies have been using a DRM system called SecuROM. Now, the DRM is considered a security flaw and their older games would no longer be playable on a computer running Windows 10.
Large organizations like the RIAA use DRM because they think it’s a good way to protect music files. They figure that if the music file is protected, people won’t illegally share it so they’ll have to buy it. And as customers buy the music files, the RIAA collects the income and then distributes it to the artists who made the music. On paper, that’s a great system: the customer buys the music which supports the artist, which encourages him to make more music! But even if DRM completely stopped file-sharing, the people who share files aren’t going to magically start buying products. In fact in 2011, a Swedish Study Shows File Sharing And Music Buying Go Hand-In-Hand.
If we compare file-sharers with those who do not share files, we find that there is no difference in how often they buy CDs. However, a larger percentage of file sharers pay to download individual songs than those who do not share files.
And you can read my previous blog on on My Views on File Sharing and why one shared file does not equal one lost sale.
So if DRM won’t stop file-sharing or turn file-sharers into paying customers, why use it in the first place?
Mike Masnick at TechDirt has an excellent article called An Economic Explanation For Why DRM Cannot Open Up New Business Model Opportunities.
Any new business model must be based around increasing the overall pie. It’s about recognizing that creating value isn’t about shifting around pieces of a limited economic pie — but making the overall pie bigger.
DRM is fundamentally opposed to this concept. It is not increasing value for the consumer in any way, but about limiting it. It takes the non-scarce goods, the very thing that helps increase value, and constrains them.
This exchange between the RIAA’s Mitch Bainwol and Gizmodo sums up the argument nicely:
Bainwol: “DRM serves all sorts of pro-consumer purposes.”
Giz: Oh, really? Can you name a single one? No? I didn’t think so. Why make a statement like this with no examples? Just because you say DRM is pro-consumer doesn’t make it true, Mitch. Get back to me when you add some substance to your argument.
You can read more about DRM on the TechDirt website, both the good and bad… but mostly the bad since DRM seems to create more problems than it fixes.
All of this brings us back to DAZ and whether they think it’s a good idea to use DRM on their content.
The first issue is that DAZ already has a Terms Of Service and a usage license which explains how people can and can’t use their products. So why the additional level of security and validation?
How will the content be DRM’ed? Will customers have to log into a validation server? What happens if the server is overloaded or down? Will DAZ face the same problems as EA and their paying customers can’t use the item that they paid for and downloaded?
I’ve had customers swear at me because they couldn’t download a product within 5 minutes of purchasing- the guy literally used the “f” word at me. How will DAZ customers react when they can’t download their product for hours or days because a server is overloaded or their license key doesn’t work? Let’s just hope these customers don’t find their own solution at another store.
And what will happen 3 years or 5 years from now when you need to re-download your product because your hard drive failed? Will DAZ’s validation servers still be up and running? Or, more likely, will their servers be able to validate purchases made 5 years earlier?
Although DAZ may or may not be using DRM to stop the free distribution of their content, I would find it very disingenuous if DAZ did. They’ve spent years training people to want things for free, so of course users will want even the paid content for free. Let’s take a look at the list:
• Human figures: M2/ V2: free, M3/ V3: free, M4/ V4: free, Genesis 2 figures: free, Genesis 3 figures: free.
• Rendering software: DAZ Studio (all versions): free.
• Landscape software: Bryce: free
• Modelling software: Hexagon: free.
• Morph packs to make the human figures usable: $39.95… wait, why isn’t this free?
Many of the products in the DAZ store have artificially high prices, which DAZ is quick to discount. Look at any random product and it’s probably $15.95 to $19.95, yet comparable products are listed at other marketplace sites at about half the price. DAZ’s solution is to put the products in their Platinum Club for $1.99 or run a 50% coupon. So it’s no wonder people want everything for free or cheap.
It’s also a little disingenuous if DAZ were to claim they’re using DRM to “support the artists”.
How much is an artist getting from a product priced at $1.99? At the standard 50% royalty, that’s less than a $1 going to the artist. But the products listed at $1.99 are DAZ owned so there’s no artist to pay a commission to? This which artist is this helping?
Although many customers in the Poser and DAZ community say they want to support the artists, especially if it means the artists will make more content, their shopping habits show otherwise.
This is a community that sees a car model for $10 (which is 1/5th the price at places like TurboSquid) and asks when it’ll be on sale for $1.99 “like DAZ”. Or people will add a a product to their shopping cart at Renderosity and wait to purchase until they get a 50% off coupon. Combine a sale like this with the 50% cut that Renderosity keeps and that $10 product now gives the artist $2.50.
Yes, I can understand that consumers want the lowest price and they might have a limited budget, but they can’t say they want to support the artist while also saying they only want to pay $1.99 for a product.
So is DRM really a good idea? It depends on your point-of-view.
If you’re a company or organization trying to create a monopoly by forcing customers to use your products in a specific way, then it’s great. If you’re a company looking to lock people into your ecosystem (your software, your hardware, your apps, and so on), then it’s great. If you’re a company trying to force out any competition because their content doesn’t work with your DRM software, then it’s great also.
But if you’re a customer looking to use the products however you like? Then probably not as much.
I suggest you do your own research: do a Google search for the good and bad of DRM and decide for yourself if you want to support companies who use DRM in their products. Or would you rather support companies that let you, the paying customer, have the flexibility to use the product as you see fit?
If you’d like to start a debate about why you think DRM is good or how it benefits the customer, please feel free to leave a comment.
Update: In an interview with Renderosity Magazine, Charles Taylor shared his thoughts and ideas on DRM and Smith Micro’s Poser Software:
Ultimately DRM is no more effective than a padlock…
The question that remains is, “Do you make your customers deal with the padlock every time they want to use the content they paid for just to keep the honest ones honest?”
At this time, we at Poser have no intent to introduce DRM to content. We think our customers are already honest.
DRM has its place. I don’t think 3D content is one of those places. Especially given the myriad of available export options in most 3D programs. With a click of the mouse, Poser content can be exported to something like FBX.
The entire article is interesting since Smith Micro is a much larger company than DAZ or Renderosity, and it could be argued that they have more to gain (or lose) by their position on DRM.