September 10, 2006 | By Fred von Lohmann

Required Reading for Product Reviewers

CDT has published a white paper setting out criteria on which DRM-restricted products and services should be judged. The paper should be required reading for every product reviewer who evaluates digital media products and services, suggesting specific questions that reviewers should be asking when examining DRM-restricted offerings.

Too many product reviews fail to mention DRM restrictions (where were the reviewers when Sony-BMG's rootkit CDs showed up?), much less test and evaluate DRM-laden products against unrestricted alternatives (for example, comparing DRM-laden products like TiVo against unrestricted alternatives like MythTV).

The point is not to rail against DRM, but rather to inform potential customers so that they can make an informed buying decision. Of course, this will require that reviewers do their homework, since the press release and product manual likely won't describe what the product has been designed not to do. But asking manufacturers hard questions is what we pay reviewers to do for us. (And some of them have been doing a great job, like The Washington Post's Rob Pegoraro and Wired's Eliot Van Buskirk.)

There are a few places where CDT pulls its punches (failing to mention that DRM is often used to force us to pay a second time for media we've already bought once) and others where it falls prey to the Hollywood propaganda machine (pretending that DVD ripping is rare when DVD Shrink and Handbrake are being reviewed in places like PC Magazine and MacWorld). But overall, the paper is a timely clarion call. I hope the product reviewers and their editors are paying attention.

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