GOG.com—my favourite DRM-free game distributor—is expanding its reach to movies and TV-Shows!
Okay, so right now their selection of TV shows and movies is pretty dismal (they’re starting with 21 independent documentaries), but it’s the beginning of what I hope will be an ongoing trend. Let me level with you here: I’m not really looking at this objectively . . . I think DRM is, at the very least, in need of some major reform. So, I’m inclined to support most initiatives that undermine it.
For those of you who don’t know what DRM (Digital Rights Management) is, let me give you the lowdown. Have you ever purchased an e-book and tried to copy or share a portion of it to no avail? Maybe you saw a pop-up like this:
Or maybe you’ve bought your favourite cheesy tortilla chips (no product placement here!) and chocolate ice-cream and are settling in for a nice night of binge-watching your favourite cancelled show on some streaming service. You’re cozied up on the couch and ready to hit play when you see something akin to this lovely Netflix error:
Well, that’s DRM hard at work.
The Netflix error happens when your computer doesn’t have any DRM protection that Netflix can detect. When this happens, Netflix won’t allow you to use its service. The e-book error is caused by embedded coding that prevents creating copies of the e-book.
Now, underlying reasons that led to the development of DRM are legitimate: in an increasingly digital society it is much easier to violate copyright laws. Years ago I would have had to have photocopied pages of books to share a portion with my friends, now (without DRM) I could theoretically just send the file via e-mail. The ease of digital distribution has really created a problem for publishers, film studies, television networks, and recording labels so something had to be done and that thing was DRM.
The problem, however, is that DRM not only prevents unlawful copyright violations, it also hinders completely legal fair-use distribution of content. This is where my bias comes in.
I’m a social-sciences scholar and am currently in the midst of conducting studies with participants all over the world. As a part of these studies, I need my participants to have access to portions of films and comic books. Let me tell you, DRM makes this a royal pain in the ass. Distributing these materials as part of an academic study clearly falls within fair-use guidelines, but DRM still prevents me from doing it. There are workarounds (currently I take individual screenshots or screencasts of digital content that I then merge into one file), but they lead to less than stellar quality images and video files.
My situation might not apply to everybody, but there are many other fair-use scenarios hindered by DRM and that makes this step toward DRM-free movies and TV shows so huge! GOG.com claims that they have “talked to most of the big players in the movie industry and [have] often got a similar answer: ‘We love your ideas, but … we do not want to be the first ones. We will gladly follow, but until somebody else does it first, we do not want to take the risk.’”
I’m excited to see if other companies follow GOG.com’s lead . . .