A Bad Experience with DRM

A couple of days ago I made my first DRM-protected music purchase: the Supreme Commander soundtrack from the DirectSong online store. I’ve long been a fan of Jeremy Soule’s work, ever since I heard the wonderful Total Annihilation soundtrack.

I’m idealogically opposed to most forms of DRM, as I believe that they are capable of removing fundamental consumer rights, and can easily be abused by the content providers. Indeed, the whole issue of buy/license/copy rights is completely broken in this age of instant, flawless, free digital copies, but no-one’s though of a universally acceptable solution yet. I made an exception in this case, as although DirectSong’s albums are encoded in Windows Media Audio with Janus DRM protection, they are at 320kb/s, and have the right to burn to CD. Their FAQ says that to the recommended way to use the music with a non-Janus device, such as a Mac or an iPod or Microsoft’s own Zune, is simply to burn and re-rip a CD. They even provide cover art; one wonders why they bother with DRM at all!

Big mistake. I was bitten by one of the biggest problems with DRM — the content controllers can rescind users’ rights at will, or inadvertently remove them through sufficiently advanced incompetence. In this case I think the fault lay with Windows Media Player 11 on Windows Vista. After I’d `gained’ rights for my machine to play the music, the media properties in WMP claimed that I had absolutely no rights at all. No burning rights, no synching rights, not even playing rights — but it played fine. If this isn’t a bug, I don’t know what is. I’ve been prevented from doing something which I paid to be permitted to do! Since I use Linux and a Janus-incompatible portable media player most of the time, this effectively stopped me from using my music at all. And let’s not forget that Microsoft removed the right to back up your licenses with Media Player 11, so that if you reinstall your OS, you lose one of your precious hardware licenses.

Apart from my personal inconvenience while I pester DirectSong to sort this out, and research DRM-stripping software such as FairUse4WM, this is probably a good thing. Hopefully, broken implementations of DRM will badly burn people and turn them against DRM before the content mafia legally gain absolute control over all our PC hardware. I’ll certainly think twice before buying DRM’d tracks again.

Update (2007/05/30): DirectSong got back to me pretty quickly, and I’m satisfied with the way they’ve handled it. It turns out they’ve haven’t yet been able to get their tracks to work properly on Media Player 11, as Microsoft have broken backwards compatibility. It may be a while until I can buy anything else from them…