488: Steal This Comic

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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Steal This Comic
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.
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."

Here, Black Hat proposes two paths:

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 (almost?) free.

Of course, there are at least a couple of alternatives to the situations that Black Hat proposes.

You can simply re-buy the DRM-locked audio when unfortunate things do happen. That way, you would always be complying with the law. 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 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 a 5th 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 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.

A note on the site says that Amazon sells DRM-free music files.


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)

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I'm not sure how credible Natural News is. http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/NaturalNews Then again, I'm not sure how credible RationalWiki is, either. 16:08, 5 April 2013 (UTC)

I'm not sure how credible The Internet is. Thokling (talk) 06:43, 25 September 2013 (UTC)
Replacing that NaturalNews link with a link to the same story on The Guardian. --Alex (talk) 14:26, 4 June 2014 (UTC)

"Steal this Comic" refers to the TPB-related "Steal this Film" and not to "Steal this Book" unless I'm very much mistaken. Also, it needs an explanation of what DMCA 1201 is and why it makes "getting your stuff back" illegal (it is, IIRC, the anti-circumvention clause, which says that breaking DRM, even for a legal purpose, is illegal; thus, getting your stuff back, ordinarily a perfectly legal act, is illegal if it involves getting around the DRM). Magic9mushroom (talk) 11:39, 21 December 2015 (UTC)

The title of "Steal this Film" was itself a reference to "Steal this Book." (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

I believe the breaking of DRM is necessary in certain cases because the media could be associated with specific accounts/computers/IPs/etc. It is not just about the use of iTunes or any other media manager. flewk (talk) 23:12, 3 January 2016 (UTC)

I deleted the "license" crap. When you buy music - on physical media - you do own it. Copyright law prohibits you from doing some things with it - just like how driving laws prohibit you from doing some things with your car - that doesn't mean you don't own it. CDs, tapes, and LPs usually don't even have shrinkwrap "licenses". You only need a license to do legally restricted stuff. IANAL. PS I hate the CAPTCHAs on this site.Tor user @ 04:30, 13 April 2016 (UTC)

Once you have an account for 5 days (I think), you don't have to answer any CAPTCHAs. 625571b7-aa66-4f98-ac5c-92464cfb4ed8 (talk) 21:59, 20 March 2017 (UTC)

There's also System of a Down's album titled "Steal This Album" which is more directly related to the topic of the comic, which is music. 02:06, 30 April 2016 (UTC)

Black Hat's arms seem too short in the last drawing, or is it just me? 625571b7-aa66-4f98-ac5c-92464cfb4ed8 (talk) 21:09, 16 March 2017 (UTC)

I followed directions, yay me172.68.142.227 16:34, 10 December 2019 (UTC)