Daily Archives: February 8, 2008

An inherent problem with DRM

This post about Adobe’s DRM being unsupported on the Mac generated a lot of comments. A good deal of commentators made the issue an “Apple vs Microsoft” one but I think they are missing the real problem.

No information structure is ever totally impervious to eventual obsolescence. Even ASCII files will become obscure one day. However, the simpler a structure is, the more chances it has to survive longer and the more chances it has to be supported in a variety of environments. An ASCII file will still be easily readable long after everybody has stopped producing readers for PDF files and it is readable on more computing platforms than PDF files are.

There are many problems with DRM, but the one I want to focus on here is the fact that it needlessly increases the complexity of the information structure. By “needlessly” of course I mean that the person accessing the information infected with DRM does not need the DRM. The information would be just as usable without the DRM. Of course the proponents of DRM argue that DRM fulfills a need, namely the need of whoever owns the information. However, as I user of information, the DRM is just an obstacle to my goals. But here is the fundamental problem: DRM makes the information structure it infects more fragile. Implementing the external infrastructure to allow to properly process the DRM information embedded in a file is not trivial. Because of this, information structures infected with DRM are more likely to become unusable in the future than those not infected with DRM. They are also more likely to receive a narrower support across diverse computing environments. That is precisely the case in the Adobe issue reported by Consumerist: Adobe’s DRM is supported in Windows but not in Mac OS.

Now, Windows users may glibly boast that at least on their platform Adobe’s DRM is supported but they’ve got to realize that their files are more fragile than if they were not infected with DRM. They must also realize that even though they can use the information now, they still do not own it and it is only a matter of time before their DRM infected files become unusable.