January 3, 2008 | By Seth Schoen

2008: DRM continues to punish paying customers

Just three days into the new year, we have another example of DRM punishing paying customers, rather than "pirates." Netflix subscriber Davis Freeberg ran headlong into an incompatibility between Microsoft DRM and ... Microsoft DRM.

The trouble all started when Freeberg bought a new monitor for his Vista computer. When he decided to watch streaming movies from Netflix, Netflix documentation warned him that the recommended means of fixing a problem with DRM-restricted Netflix programming "may remove licenses to other content using Microsoft DRM" -- including, in particular, restricted programming he had already purchased through Amazon Unbox. Trying to resolve this problem just got Freeberg a tech-support runaround, with each company involved pointing the finger at another.

Tech support problems are not unfamiliar to PC users, but where did this problem come from? Freeberg was just trying to use a new monitor with his computer; his reward, apparently, was broken DRM software, which couldn't be sure the new monitor met movie studios' arbitrary requirements (or perhaps just couldn't be sure whether it could be sure). Furthermore, the DRM industry -- which has already spent countless engineer-hours making "approved" and "licensed" products (seemingly at the expense of "compatible" and "interoperable" devices) -- couldn't even offer Freeberg a clear path out of this jam.

Is this mess stopping copyright infringement? Nope -- it's still easy to copy media and easy to find unauthorized copies. In fact, one commenter points out that the easiest "fix" for Freeberg's trouble appears to be downloading the movie from an unauthorized torrent tracker.

Freeberg's conundrum is likely the product of the Protected Media Path (PMP) (mis)features that have been added to Microsoft's Vista operating system. Thanks to PMP, Vista computers can now "audit" the video outputs, supposedly to ensure that only "authorized" (aka DRM-laden) video boards and monitors can receive Hollywood content. Unfortunately, these kinds of (mis)features generally (1) don't stop pirates and (2) result in compatibility headaches for paying customers.

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