FTC To Discuss DRM At Town Hall Meeting

FTC To Discuss DRM At Town Hall Meeting

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The Federal Trade Commission is holding a town hall meeting to discuss digital rights management and its impact on consumers, and they're looking for input from you!

Copy-protection schemes have never been much fun but 2008 was a particularly rough year for both consumers and game publishers. Electronic Arts was at the center of the storm: After stirring up the pot by announcing that Mass Effect would use a recurring validation system (a decision which was later reversed) EA then dumped it in gamers' crotches by releasing Spore with some of the most restrictive DRM ever seen. At launch, Spore could only be installed on three PCs, and each copy was good for only one online account, meaning that each member of a family, for instance, would have to purchase his or her own copy of the game in order to play it separately.

EA eased up a bit on the restrictions following the game's release, and even got around to releasing a "de-authorization tool" in December 2008, but the damage was done: Consumer rage blew up in EA's face, ranging from angry forum posts to class-action lawsuits, and while the company stood its ground it became increasingly clear that this wasn't going to just blow over anytime soon. Meanwhile, the ironic icing atop the angercake came in December with the news that after all the effort and trouble, Spore was still the most pirated game of 2008.

The hullabaloo has finally caught the attention of the U.S. government in the form of the Federal Trade Commission, which will hold a town hall meeting on March 25 at the University of Washington School of Law in Seattle, Washington. The event will include demonstrations of DRM technology as well as panel discussions regarding legal issues, the impact of DRM on consumers and the possible role of government in protecting consumers from undisclosed DRM.

"Digital rights management (DRM) refers to technologies typically used by hardware manufacturers, publishers, and copyright holders to attempt to control how consumers access and use media and entertainment content," the FTC said in the town hall meeting notice. "Among other issues, the workshop will address the need to improve disclosures to consumers about DRM limitations."

The need to "improve disclosures" is highlighted, again, by Spore. While EA made no secret of the fact that the full release version of Spore made use of SecuROM, it failed to inform people that the free trial edition of the Spore Creature Creator also installed the software. SecuROM is notorious for causing problems on some PC configurations, and EA's failure to inform consumers of its presence in the freely-distributed trial program resulted in a class action lawsuit in October 2008 which claimed the company engaged in "deceptive and unlawful conduct in designing, marketing, distributing a computer game demo that contains undisclosed and unconsented to Digital Rights Management technology."

People unable to attend the meeting in Washington can still contribute: The FTC has provided a form to submit "written comments or original research" which may be brought up at the meeting, while at the other end of the spectrum, individuals can also apply to become directly involved in the process. "The Commission invites interested parties to submit requests to be panelists and to recommend other topics for discussion. The requests should be submitted electronically to [email protected] by January 30, 2009....The Commission will select panelists based on their expertise and on the need to represent a range of views."

Is this a first step toward real change in the way companies view not only DRM but the very nature of their relationships with consumers? The involvement of the FTC gives the proceedings a certain gravitas, but people who expect major publishers to simply throw in the towel are bound to be disappointed. At best, I'd hope to see meaningful progress toward a DRM notification system, perhaps something similar to ESRB ratings labels. Government involvement may not be necessary, but as the ESRB has shown us, sometimes the threat of government involvement is necessary to get things done.

Source: Ars Technica

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Well here's hoping will effect rest of the world with the DRM shenanigans EA and others are pulling off of late. Should be interesting what results are but doubt much will change. Only hope is a white hat hacker wants to partake in the presentation and show people just how ineffective such DRM's are and how only hamper paying customers rather than the pirates.

Call me cynical, but I suspect the involvement of the FTC will be used more to try and convince consumers that "it's not so bad, look, even the FTC thinks it's not so bad" than to actually help the consumer. America has become a Plutocracy, our role as customers is only to damn well buy what we're told to buy when we're told to buy it.

Thanks for providing the link Malygris to allow contributions to this town hall meeting. I look forward to submitting my thoughts in hopes to reach the FTC about Digital Rights Management.

The involvement of the FTC will likely not make DRM go away. That really isn't a realistic goal. BUT, the involvement of the FTC will hopefully do what should already be done, and that is require labeling that details the level of DRM being used on a product.

Hopefully this will spill over into the CD market also. I presently do not own a CD player outside of my computer (well, okay my DVD player can play CDs also) and would be more than a little upset to buy a CD only to find I can not play it because of DRM.

Mostly I just want to be fully aware of what I am purchasing, and therefor be able to avoid those products that have a DRM that I find unfair.

Piracy is the only reasonable solution to DRM. If I'm treated like a criminal I'll act like one.

harhol:
Piracy is the only reasonable solution to DRM. If I'm treated like a criminal I'll act like one.

Ooh, what larks! Very Atlas Shrugged! Count me in.

Copter400:

harhol:
Piracy is the only reasonable solution to DRM. If I'm treated like a criminal I'll act like one.

Ooh, what larks! Very Atlas Shrugged! Count me in.

There is nothing Randian about piracy. Please don't associate me with that evil woman.

EDIT: dunno why I put "libertarian"

deathyepl:
Call me cynical, but I suspect the involvement of the FTC will be used more to try and convince consumers that "it's not so bad, look, even the FTC thinks it's not so bad" than to actually help the consumer. America has become a Plutocracy, our role as customers is only to damn well buy what we're told to buy when we're told to buy it.

i hate to say it but you're more than likely right, they might give some voice to why people are angry but in the end little to less than nothing will be done

Just out of curiosity, if every copy of Spore was clearly labeled with "You can only install this on three machines and only have one online account", would people buy it any less?

All I see coming out of this are strict requirements that companies disclose the DRM they're using and its effect someplace in bold on the box.

L.B. Jeffries:
Just out of curiosity, if every copy of Spore was clearly labeled with "You can only install this on three machines and only have one online account", would people buy it any less?

All I see coming out of this are strict requirements that companies disclose the DRM they're using and its effect someplace in bold on the box.

Maybe they would have bought less of it. Maybe they would've pirated more.
I agree, I think it's very likely we'll see a ratings system for DRM (from Highly Restrictive to Loose or None) as the only major change from this panel. Government has a very controlled idea of what it can do to entertainment, and it's generally just "sanitize it" (as they did with Comics) or if they can't sanitize it "tell people how unsanitary it is." But this could potentially be a good thing. It may come to pass that the Highly Restrictive games are the ones that are most pirated, causing companies to drop off favor of looser restrictions for more legitimate sales (although, I can't imagine them being too thrilled about getting "Highly Restrictive DRM" on their box in any event).

L.B. Jeffries:
Just out of curiosity, if every copy of Spore was clearly labeled with "You can only install this on three machines and only have one online account", would people buy it any less?

All I see coming out of this are strict requirements that companies disclose the DRM they're using and its effect someplace in bold on the box.

No, I wouldn't purchase it. Fact is Spore was cracked and available to download before it was released. So much for Day 0 prevention.

L.B. Jeffries:
All I see coming out of this are strict requirements that companies disclose the DRM they're using and its effect someplace in bold on the box.

What's wrong with that? The goal at this point isn't to eliminate DRM, it's to ensure consumers are fully informed about what they're buying. EA has every right to bury its games in SecuROM if it wants; what it doesn't have the right to do is mislead the public about it.

Of course, there will be those who say that's not good enough, that anything less than the utter abolition of DRM is collusion with unspeakable evil, but I suspect those people really just don't want to pay for their games.

Malygris:

L.B. Jeffries:
All I see coming out of this are strict requirements that companies disclose the DRM they're using and its effect someplace in bold on the box.

What's wrong with that? The goal at this point isn't to eliminate DRM, it's to ensure consumers are fully informed about what they're buying. EA has every right to bury its games in SecuROM if it wants; what it doesn't have the right to do is mislead the public about it.

Of course, there will be those who say that's not good enough, that anything less than the utter abolition of DRM is collusion with unspeakable evil, but I suspect those people really just don't want to pay for their games.

Nothing wrong or right about it. Just a label on a game. If that's enough, then that's enough.

 

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