Copyright Alert System and Always-DRM: It sucks

I had every intention of writing about the newest Indie Royale bundle, but then I was linked to this article over at Raw Story that explains the system telecomm companies are rolling out on July 12th to battle piracy. From Raw Story:

The content industries calls this scheme a “graduated response” plan, which will see Time Warner Cable, Cablevision, Comcast, Verizon, AT&T and others spying on users’ Internet activities and watching for potential copyright infringement. Users who are “caught” infringing on a creator’s protected work can then be interrupted with a notice that piracy is forbidden by law and carries penalties of up to $150,000 per infringement, requiring the user to click through saying they understand the consequences before bandwidth is restored, and they could still be subject to copyright infringement lawsuits.

Participating ISPs have a range of options for dealing with customers who continue to pirate media, at that point: They can require that an alleged repeat offender undergo an educational course before their service is restored. They can utilize multiple warnings, restrict access to only certain major websites like Google, Facebook or a list of the top 200 sites going, reduce someone’s bandwidth to practically nothing and even share information on repeat offenders with competing ISPs, effectively creating a sort of Internet blacklist — although publicly, none of the network operators have agreed to “terminate” a customer’s service.

It is because of those reasons that the content industries believe this program achieves much more than what might have been possible in the realm of public policy, and the ISPs appear to agree. The voluntary scheme will be paid for mostly by the content industries, which will share some costs with the ISPs.

Although this paints a pretty apocalyptic picture—and don’t get me wrong, this is extremely significant in like, a totally not good way—the reality is slightly different.  Content holders will not have access to everything you do on the Internet. Instead, if they find your IP in a torrent cloud or by other P2P means, they will inform your ISP who then will issue a warning or take further action.

Although it should be alarming that Time Warner and other corporations share such a cozy relationship with ISP providers, this is not different than how things are now. If you or someone you know has ever received a warning from their ISP because they were torrenting, say, Tremors, the process described above might look pretty similar.

That’s because it is.  Instead, what makes this scary is that this is a push to systemize the way ISPs and content owners go after users who are allegedly downloading content illegally. Although the cost of this system is supposedly shared by content industries and ISPs, there’s nothing really stopping either from passing the cost along to the customer.

If they did make up the cost of this new system by squeezing more out of the customer, suddenly customers who have never used P2P software to download copyrighted material are being punished.

In gaming, we see this when companies use Always-On DRM (Digital Rights Management) in their games. Always-On DRM requires that players be connected to a company’s servers in order to the play the game.

For online games, this seems fine. Unfortunately, this is becoming prevalent even in single player games like the PC version of Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed 2. The rationale makes sense on paper: it keeps pirates from playing the game because even if they acquire the game files they need to connect to a server that authenticates their game.

But what happens when a legitimate, paying customer wants to play their single player game when Ubisoft’s servers are down? Well, tough shit.

In February, Ubisoft had to relocate their servers and during that time customers were unable to access the games they paid for. When I first read about this, I thought so what? MMOs have server maintenance all the time and players can’t play during that time.

Except these aren’t MMOs. These are single player games. With an MMO you are paying for a service. You get access to an online game with thousands of other players and, on top of that, the game is (presumably) updated and new content is added. This means that single player games with Always-On DRM exist in this weird space between product and service.

At launch, the game cost $60 but still required constant connection like an MMO. If your connection dropped out as you played or, perhaps, more importantly, you wanted to play it on a computer without access to the web, you were shit out of luck. It was simply the worst of both worlds.  And it goes without saying that Ubisoft was not regularly adding content to a single player game like Assassin’s Creed 2 because it was a port of a console game in the first place.

This is an unsettling trend in the way companies are choosing to battle piracy. The paying customer simply loses. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking Internet subscribers or people who pay for video games, legitimate customers are left holding the bag because of a battle they are probably not even privy to.

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One response to “Copyright Alert System and Always-DRM: It sucks

  1. Pingback: Retrospective: SimCity 2000 | Super Memory Bros.

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