Why New “Interoperable DRM” Doesn’t Work

The concept of Interoperable DRM is great!  Access all your protected anywhere, on any device.  Licensing fees are generally cut for makers/users of the devices and thus everyone wins, right?  Wrong.


If an Interoperable DRM standard had been set 5 years before the big boom (if you can call it that) happened with online music and video, Interoperable DRM would have worked.  The problem now is rather simple, unless the entire market adopts these Interoperable DRM standards, the market doesn’t change.  If Apple doesn’t adopt Interoperable DRM for their iTunes Music Store, Interoperable DRM has failed to accomplish its goal.  If Microsoft doesn’t adopt Interoperable DRM to be included in WMRM, Interoperable DRM has failed to accomplish its goal.  If the content owners selling this content online don’t adopt Interoperable DRM, it has yet again to accomplish its goal.  The content owners generally side with either Apple or Microsoft (or both in some cases) to license solutions that have already been highly developed and are supported in devices already.  If the whole market doesn’t adopt the Interoperable DRM standard, we just get back to the problem that Interoperable DRM was supposed to fix!


Interoperable DRM was a great idea, but the market didn’t accept it, when it mattered the most.  Even if Apple were to take up Interoperable DRM now, are we to think that their iPods would all be updatable to actually work with this Interoperable DRM?  Are we to think that all the PlaysForSure devices out there can also magically be updated?  The fact of the matter is they can’t always be updated, and they won’t be by enough of the market to make a difference. Again, killing what Interoperable DRM was supposed to fix!


Apple and Microsoft rule the online music world, they get the power to pick what happens.  Neither company is doing the job they should have, but that’s to be expected with Apple and Microsoft trying to complete again one-and-another.  Apple has the market share with iTMS and the iPod locking you into FairPlay.  After this became clear, Microsoft went to creating this PlaysForSure campaign so they could market the closest thing we have to Interoperable DRM.  Neither idea/strategy works as a win for the consumer, but Interoperable DRM doesn’t fix that unless all companies currently involved adopt it.


Microsoft rules most of the online video world, and Apple has yet to make a formal announcement about entering the market.  WMRM and PlaysForSure fits into the online video distribution market, and a change in this means all devices must be updated and that’s not going (and can’t) happen.


However, neither company benefits from adopting it, which is why in the end, they will not adopt it.  If Microsoft adopts it and Apple doesn’t, this doesn’t help people buying from the iTMS and being able to play it on their device that isn’t made by Apple.  If Apple adopts it and Microsoft doesn’t, this doesn’t unlock me from playing tracks purchased from Apple on non-iPod devices.  The device market can add support for these Interoperable DRM standards, but if there aren’t any big names in the online content game selling content protected with it, it’s just an additional cost to the user that isn’t needed.  No matter how small the cost is, it’s still too much if you can’t take advantage of it.  Then you run into the fact again that current devices can’t necessary be updated to allow the Interoperable DRM standards to actually be used.


There are two cases in which the consumer can get an Interoperable DRM-type of system.  This means Microsoft and Apple (and all other players) coming together and making a single shop where you can purchase all the media with the exact same rights, using the different DRM standards.  You can mix FairPlay, WMRM, and whatever new Interoperable DRM standard makes its way into the market.  In my opinion, this isn’t going to happen anytime soon, so don’t get your hopes up.  The other case that would work is for the market to adopt these new Interoperable DRM standards, and mix them with what they have now.   Again, not likely happen.


Yet another case where the consumer loses, but new Interoperable DRM are not what is going to fix it.  If anyone has ideas about how adding another completing DRM standard to the mix will help consumers, please post exactly how it would work.

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