Will anti-DRM protests hurt Spore?

Update:

Spore is apparently one of the most widely-pirated games in recent memory, according to a report at TorrentFreak, with many downloaders referring to the draconian DRM restrictions as a justification.

Original post:

One of the most hotly-awaited video games of the past decade, Spore — the new game from Will Wright, reportedly in development for 10 years — hit stores this week, and was promptly panned for what fans say is overly restrictive digital-rights management. The game checks with Electronic Arts headquarters after it’s activated online, and then again after a second or third activation. In order to activate the game a fourth time, owners have to phone the company and provide license codes, product details and other proof of purchase.

Electronic Arts says that such measures are required to fight rampant game piracy, while fans of the game say restricting them to only three installs amounts to making them rent the game, and they have responded by bombarding the review section of Amazon’s store with complaints. When I first came across reports of this activity, there were only a few hundred negative ratings, but when I checked today there were more than 1,600; the average rating for the game, with more than 1,550 contributions, was a single star.

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How not to think about music, Part XVII

Sometimes I read something and am rendered speechless — and not in a good way. I had that reaction this morning to a staggeringly dense opinion piece in PC Magazine by Lance Ulanoff, about the “dangers” of DRM-free music, and how this is not only going to cause the ruination of the entire content industry as we know it, but flies in the face of centuries worth of economics. We even get a charming little vignette of Lance talking to his young daughter about bartering, etc.

Lance, who is allegedly editor-in-chief of the PC Magazine network, says the digital content industry is “on the road to ruin,” and that with each step towards removing DRM controls and offering music for free, the music business is “digging itself in deeper.” Lance must be looking at the digging from the opposite side, because to me it sure looks like they are digging themselves out rather than in. Not our Lance though. He says that the digital economy is on the verge of collapse.

As Mike Masnick notes over at Techdirt, the economic “arguments” that Lance puts forward (and I’m using that term very loosely) are completely out to lunch. A lack of DRM controls isn’t making music lose its value — the effects of digitization and the economics of abundance are, as marginal costs of production fall to zero, or close enough to make little difference. Putting DRM controls on music isn’t going to somehow cause value to reappear by magic. Value has moved elsewhere.

Note:

This isn’t really relevant, but I can’t help myself: Lance’s article also uses the word “staunch” to mean an attempt to stop the bleeding (metaphorically) in the music industry. The word is “stanch.” Staunch means dependable.

Irony alert: Napster offers mp3 files

If you read the news about Napster offering non-DRM mp3 files and felt a kind of psychological whiplash from all the ironies inherent in that brief item, don’t feel bad. I share your pain. Imagine: the idea of an online music provider named Napster offering actual mp3 files for people to download. I would have liked to have been in the meeting when someone suggested a strategy that could easily have been implemented (at least technically) almost a decade ago, when the original Napster was just getting off the ground. Instead, we’ve had years of expensive lawsuits and watched the music industry stumble from disaster to disaster.

Will no-DRM mean more lawsuits?

After my most recent post on the RIAA and CD copying, I don’t want anyone to get the idea that I’m on an anti-record industry rant, but I have to wonder at all of the rainbows-and-kittens commentary on Sony’s reported move to offer non-DRM tracks. According to BusinessWeek, the label is going to start offering mp3 files with no digital-rights management restrictions, beginning with a Justin Timberlake promotion.

Will this be a noteworthy step, if it actually happens? Sure it will. Sony is one of the few remaining holdouts on offering non-DRM tracks. But before everyone gets all warm and fuzzy about the giant record labels, I’d just like to point out that they are still suing people for downloading and sharing music, and there are plenty more similar suits on the books. Does Sony’s move mean that the industry has suddenly turned over a new leaf, like Scrooge did in A Christmas Carol? Unlikely.

I would imagine the major labels are somewhat chastened by the fact that CD sales were down by 20 per cent or so this Christmas compared to the previous one, and down about 10 per cent for the year (or perhaps even more than that). But that doesn’t mean they are going to start hosting Limewire parties or joining the Electronic Frontier Foundation. In fact, I’m afraid it could actually lead to more lawsuits rather than fewer.

At least with DRM controls, the labels could convince themselves that their job was done, and let technology carry the bag. Now, the industry will have to confront the fact that all of the non-DRM tracks it releases into the wild will be untraceable and completely shareable. Will that convince them that they need to find new business models, or at least modify the existing ones? Perhaps. Or it might make them even more likely to launch a lawsuit.

Baseball apologizes for foul DRM ball

Baseball fan Allan Wood, who downloaded dozens of major-league games through the Major League Baseball service and paid good money for them (close to $300), wrote a post yesterday that got a lot of attention in both the blogosphere and traditional media: it seems his files suddenly stopped working, because MLB had changed the kind of digital-rights management it used and failed to tell anyone. Not only that, but they refused to provide any refunds or allow him to download the games again.

Wood has blogged about this problem before, but for whatever reason (because it got picked up by Techmeme.com perhaps? Or BoingBoing?) it got more attention this time — and MLB apparently heard about the rising storm of negative publicity somehow. An update to Wood’s blog says that he got a call from a representative for the league, who admitted that they had handled things badly, and said that everyone affected would be able to download their games again for free. Staci at PaidContent also talked to someone at MLB about it.

Score: Baseball – 0; Blogosphere – 1.