Is DRM malicious code?

github logo ・1 min read

This question is prompted by this /r/Gentoo post. Gentoo Linux allows you to pick and choose components ad-hoc to compile in to your software packages, and this user is curious about whether or not to opt-in to the widevine component used for streaming content protection on their Chromium build.

One the one hand, content providers need to ensure they control their IP. On the other, the ethical lines get blurry quickly, and the details are often unclear for an end user. I'm not surprised the Gentoo subreddit falls heavily in the "yes" camp, but I'd like to hear what DEV thinks.

Photo by James Sutton on Unsplash

twitter logo DISCUSS (21)
markdown guide
 
 

What would an improved model look like to you?

 

As far as IP law goes I'd be curious to see it removed and try and deal with any negative ramifications after the fact. I don't buy that there would be a massive hit to creative and innovative enterprises if IP law were to be out in place, but in the case that there were, I think dealing with those problems in a way that doesn't involve exploitative IP law is the best option.

And in some cases maybe no action should be taken at all. If this change causes the collapsed of giant media businesses like Disney for example I would think that we are better of that way.

 

Produced content is protected under the first amendment with all the liberties and restrictions their in, yet the speech of someone who reproduces that content is not protected. This is a contradictory notion and since the rest of law is subordinate to the Constitution the invalid part of the contradiction is the invalid part.

There is some nuance to be had concerning the fact that some speech is restricted under the first amendment, like yelling fire in a crowded theater, but unlike in those the enforcement isn't based on the content of the speech and then applied universally but based on the person speaking. The only other place in law that this is true is for those in political offices, which that fact alone I think should make anyone take pause at the validity of the law.

 

It's just as malicious as any non-free code.

That's what I'm not convinced of, I can't tell if it's a different category or not. It's not undesired, it does exactly what it's advertised to do. I understand the argument that any non-free code should be considered malicious, and whether or not I agree is irrelevant - I think this is a different question. Is DRM that you understand and opt in to objectively worse than any arbitrary closed source software that you understand and opt in to?

When I use something like Chrome, I have no pretenses about the fact there is machinery I do not fully understand watching me, that's part of the contract.

I do agree that widevine provides functionality that would be better for everyone if could be provided FOSS-like.

 

Is it malware? I don’t think so. Malware is software that acts with malicious intent, which DRM does not (Most of the time, that is).

Does it go too far? Sometimes. I once found 2 DRM systems on my friend’s computer that would start at boot.

Would I rather want it gone? Absolutely. But if it’s gone, people will just start pirating content more. Unfortunately, we are all forced to suffer the consequences of the actions those people take, since DRM can’t just only be enabled for pirates, because there’s no way of knowing who’s a pirate, and who’s not.

 

If the user doesn't want it doing what it's doing, it's malware, period, whether it's DRM software, a botnet controller, or even their PDF viewer choosing to

Note, I'm not a fan of DRM in general. When it comes to digital goods, most piracy is not easy even without DRM, and a vast majority of people who pirate content aren't doing it to be malicious, but because they simply can't get access to that content any other way. So reducing piracy doesn't reliably correlate positively with increasing sales (in fact, it can hurt future sales, because people who don't have access to the original content will be less likely to try and procure newer derivative works based on that content).

 

I would not go as far as saying it is malicious (speaking generally on DRM, I'm unsure if Widevine is doing shady things), but I think it is providing a poor product and poor customer service when it isn't implemented well. Most times it hurts the paying customers, not the ones who pirated. Ubisoft DRM comes to mind as bad DRM that prevented you from using what you paid for.

 

I agree with all of this, but I don't think it's the matter at hand.
But yeah, lots of the time DRM is too intrusive.
While Netflix's is good quality DRM, I think it's a case study of how much more important it is to make the media practical than it is to protect the content: they never beat piracy, it's still plenty available. Yet, it sells well. Why? Because, it's easy.
Of ALL the people I know who use Netflix today, ALL pirated their media a few years back. Now, they use Netflix and Spotify, and some other streaming services. Because the current options get less in their way.

Well in this case it doesn't really matter. Regardless of the definition of speech that one uses, these laws apply regulations to said speech unevenly, and that is primarily what I think makes these laws singularly pernicious as it applies to first amendment law.

The point I'm making is not that it necessarily matters whether certain things are or are not protected under free speech, but that they are treated as if they are protected under free speech. A book for example is protected under free speech and yet it is also protected under IP law, and I've already pointed out why this creates a paradox. This doesn't problem doesn't arise in all IP law, but in many areas (the example given being the copyright portion) it does. A solution to the contradiction would be to either make books not protected under copyright or not protected as speech and I'll leave the reader to make that judgment.

Yeah. On the last note I am taking an American view, but I am fine with taking those liberties.

As for constitutes speech, I'll try to avoid getting into the weeds trying to answer that question, but at least for things like books, movies, etc. I would say that all modern schools of though on interpreting the Constitution would agree that they are protected as speech. This is a conclusion I would tend to agree with as well.

 
Classic DEV Post from Apr 2 '18

The Super-Brief History of JavaScript Frameworks For Those Somewhat Interested

A relatively brief history of how we got here - a slew of JavaScript frameworks and the problems they're trying to solve.

Ben Lovy profile image
Just this guy, you know? Hobbyist, mostly. He/him.

dev.to is where software developers stay in the loop and avoid career stagnation.

Sign up (for free)