DRM, Steam and Lord of the Rings


I am not a big fan of Digital Rights Management. It tends to force a “service” on consumers looking for a product. A service that provides no benefit to the consumer, but makes them depend more on the provider. It is anti-competitive and anti-consumer.

There is much more I want to say about DRM, piracy and copyright laws, but a quote that very well sum up my thoughts on the matter comes from Gabe Newell, founder of Valve. (Note that Valve’s Steam is itself a DRM solution, but Newell’s ideas are sound nonetheless.)

In general, we think there is a fundamental misconception about piracy. Piracy is almost always a service problem and not a pricing problem. For example, if a pirate offers a product anywhere in the world, 24 x 7, purchasable from the convenience of your personal computer, and the legal provider says the product is region-locked, will come to your country 3 months after the US release, and can only be purchased at a brick and mortar store, then the pirate’s service is more valuable. Most DRM solutions diminish the value of the product by either directly restricting a customers use or by creating uncertainty.

Our goal is to create greater service value than pirates, and this has been successful enough for us that piracy is basically a non-issue for our company. For example, prior to entering the Russian market, we were told that Russia was a waste of time because everyone would pirate our products. Russia is now about to become our largest market in Europe.

Gabe Newell

One example of this is that I, as a Lord of the Rings fan, have long wanted to buy the full film set. Unfortunately, I have not been able to.

I could order the Bluray or DVD set, but that would be incredibly inconvenient since they split each film over multiple disks which would require you to change disk mid-film. This also assumes I am using a device with a disk reader, which usually I am not.

Perhaps I could insert each disk once, copy the contents to my hard drive, append the different parts in a video editor and just watch it from there later on? Nope, because most disk formats are going to be DRM protected. I could probably break it somehow, but circumventing DRM is illegal. This despite the fact that Sweden (along with many European countries) enforce a fee on storage devices in exchange for allowing private copies of media.

I am not going to stream the films, because I do not want to subscribe to a service. I want to buy my favourite movies. I want to buy the right to have plain video files of these movies on my computer. I want to pay for them once, and then watch them whenever I want to, wherever I want to.

And so, I keep just not watching those films very much. I don’t pay anyone anything, because somehow no one sells what I want.

(And just to Warner Brothers: if you want some free money by selling the LOTR+Hobbit movies in a format that isn’t ridiculous, get in touch and I’ll set you up with something for that. It’s not difficult.)