488: Steal This Comic
|Steal This Comic|
Title text: I spent more time trying to get an audible.com audiobook playing than it took to listen to the book. I have lost every other piece of DRM-locked music that I ever paid for.
DRM, that is, "Digital Rights Management", is a recent (to this day) anti-piracy mechanism that is used to prevent unapproved or unintended use of the program. An example would be a requirement to play the game while online (where the servers can validate the game), or again, allowing only a limited amount of installs. The problem is that there are ways that DRM can be restrictive even upon legal situations. (To derivate from the aforementioned examples, someone may simply want to play the game in an area where there is no Internet connection, or again, someone may had exceeded the amount of allowed installs due to installation problems or hardware malfunctions requiring the purchase of new hardware.) In the situation placed in the above comic, one can not, say, transfer the audiobook or song from an iPod to a Blackberry phone, even if the song was only to share between family, or again, to have a backup. For this reason, DRM has gotten another (rather-accurate) name: "Digital Restrictions Management".
- If you pirate the audio (that is, download them through other sites), you would not only be breaking the law (more specifically, copyright laws), but neither the publisher nor the performer nor the composer get any money from your gain. However, not only you would have gotten the audio for free (or at least at a substantial discount, since you may have to pay a third-party site for access to the pirated audio), but all DRM would have been broken or simply not present (since defeating the DRM is required to acquire the audio in the first place), so you can use the songs in whatever way you would like.
- If you buy the DRM-locked audio, you would be complying with the law, plus the publisher, performer, and composer would get money for their work. However, suppose that your computer got lost, broken or stolen. Or again, you could be switching to an operating system or upgrade to a new computer that does not support iTunes. In this case, you would not be able to access your collection due to the new hardware/software. If you try to recover your collection by breaking the DRM, you would be violating the law, albeit a different one, even if the reason you want to break the DRM is to recover the collection for which you paid, thus therefore legally own.
Since both situations have you end up being a criminal, Black Hat proposes taking the pirate path, which leaves you with a collection of dependable audio for free.
There are multiple alternatives to the situations that Black Hat proposes.
- You can simply re-buy the DRM-locked audio when unfortunate things do happen. The risk of unfortunate events can further be minimised by investing in a file backup system (online and/or offline). That way, you would always be complying with the law. Furthermore, given that musical tastes often change over time, it is worth considering how much of your owned audio you would actually purchase again if you had to. However, not only you would be required to pay multiple times for the same audio you legally own, but there is no guarantee that the audio you want is available the next time you need to make the purchase. In fact, there is always the possibility of the service that provided you with the audio in the first place withdrawing the item you legally bought..
- You can decide instead to think of audio as an experience rather than a thing that you own (similar to going to a movie theater). This type of thinking has given rise to music subscription sites, where instead of owning the music the listener is paying for continued access to an very large range of music. From the days of physical media we are accustomed to thinking that we owned the audio, whereas in reality we have only ever owned a personal use license that was tied to the physical object.
- You can purchase the hard-copy version of the audio (e.g. on CD). These are then easily ripped to your hard-drive and then copied to other devices, plus a physical item can be useful for older sound systems that do not support digital media. However the downsides usually include: higher cost, delayed delivery, necessity of physical storage space (unless the disc is disposed of after ripping) and in many cases the non-availability of the desired audio in the first place.
- You can simply avoid buying the audio, but, if you are inclined towards audio plus there is no other legal way to buy the song, this would not be a pleasant solution (especially if you really like the song).
In light of this, Randall proposes another option: demanding DRM-free files.
The title is a reference both to Black Hat's suggestion to pirate the audio and the "Piracy is a Crime" ad campaign, as well as a 1970 pro-anarchy book called Steal This Book. There is also some underlying humour: since xkcd is under a Creative Commons license, you can not "steal" the comic, since Randall specifically allowed the comic to be shared. It could also be a reference to Don't Download This Song, a "Weird" Al Yankovic song that amusingly deals with audio piracy.
A note on the site says that Amazon sells DRM-free music files. Since this comic was written, iTunes has also stopped using DRM on music, though it still protects apps, e-books, and videos.
- Black Hat: Thinking of buying from audible.com or iTunes?
- Black Hat: Remember, if you pirate something, it's yours for life. You can take it anywhere and it will always work.
- [There is a flowchart whose paths are (You're a Criminal)<-Pirate<-(Buy or Pirate)->Buy->(Things Change)->(You Try to Recover Your Collection)->(You're a Criminal)]
- Black Hat: But if you buy DRM-locked media, and you ever switch operating systems or new technology comes along, your collection could be lost.
- Black Hat: And if you try to keep it, you'll be a criminal (DMCA 1201).
- Black Hat: So remember: if you want a collection you can count on, PIRATE IT.
- Black Hat: Hey, you'll be a criminal either way.
- (If you don't like this, demand DRM-free files)