Sunday, March 25, 2007

Developer Stardock Explains No-DRM Policy

In an article dated March 21st from Stardock's website titled "How Copy Protection Creates Pirates," Stardock Corporation Inc. extolled the negative effects of DRM and explained a current company policy to not use it.

Stardock develops and publishes video games (such as the Galactic Civilizations franchise), as well as a handful of other visual and graphical programs. The company also administrates, an online store that sells downloads of games, DRM-free, directly to consumers. The company does not employ DRM anywhere in any of the software that they release.
When Galactic Civilizations II was released with no copy protection whatsoever, some people said that we must not care about piracy. Of course we do. We worked hard on the game and hope/expect people who want it to pay for it. But there are too many times when copy protection and DRM end up hurting legitimate customers.
The company believes that, by developing software that has a high level of quality, consumers will be drawn to pay for it. Of course piracy will still occur, but by creating something that people actually want to buy, sales won't be drastically reduced by it and consumers won't have to deal with the headaches that are often a result of DRM implementations.

They have also chosen not to use DRM in their Stardock Central app (connected with to give consumers the ability to download games - like Valve's Steam), a decision they based on the multitude of problems that consumers have with DRM already.
Stardock and don't use DRM. Our delivery program, Stardock Central, uses SSD (Secure Software Delivery) which in essence functions as a way to verify that the user downloading it is who they are (basic activation) but after that, you're done. There's no DRM, digital license, net connection, etc. needed. And even if you lose your serial #, CD, etc. no problem, the automated system will resend you everything you need in email.
Stardock has touched on something I believe to be very important to the well-being of the software and media industries: consumer trust. Stardock's sales have not been negatively affected by their decision not to include DRM in their games or game distributions. They had no reason to believe that DRM will help their bottom line at all, and they acted on it.

This news update on Stardock's website was prompted by an interesting story on The Consumerist blog from March 20th. "How I Became A Music Pirate" tells the story of how Jarret, a 40-year-old man who bought his music, was driven to piracy by the DRM in the software he used to buy a Luna album from Rhino Records' online store. He runs into a problem when he realizes that the WMAs he downloaded will not play in iTunes because of the copy protection that Rhino Records uses. He eventually calls a representative and is stonewalled in an interesting, but typical, way (emphasis mine).
So I called Rhino customer support and after an 8 minute wait spoke with a representative. She informed me that the files were indeed copy protected so that I could only play them on specific music players, most notably not iTunes.

"You don't understand," I said, "These files were not copied or pirated, I actually purchased them."

"Well" she responded, "You didn't actually purchase the files, you really purchased a license to listen to the music, and the license is very specific about how they can be played or listened to."

Now I was baffled. "Records never came with any such restrictions," I said.

She replied, "Well they were supposed to, but we weren't able to enforce those licenses back then, and now we can."
The story goes on to chronicle his decision to download the songs so he can listen to them in iTunes. Just an interesting account of one person's experience with DRM that was so bad, he had to pirate the music. He tried to buy the music several times and he was never able to get what he wanted for his money. He ends with only the most fitting resignation:
Since I've resigned myself not to waste any more time with the music business, I suppose I'll have to resort to purchasing used CD's & records, or having my friends occasionally make me a copy of one of their newer CD's.

Call it piracy. Call it whatever you want. But at least I tried. I gave you several chances and you failed miserably at every level.
It's sad when a dying business is so stubborn that it refuses to work with its customers to help them give the business money.

Edit: Continuing to follow the thread at SA revealed this gem of an exchange between eight forums members:

GamingHyena: Piracy leaves the artist with 0%.
Powercrazy: You are wrong. If I download a CD of an artist I've never heard of, listen to it and decide I like. I am about 1000% more likely to go see that artist at a concert. When I pay to get into the concert I give the artist money (not 100% but much more than I would buying the CD.) If I had never downloaded the music in the first place I would have never gone to the concert.
Nodrog: When I shoplift a new bar of chocolate I am 1000% more likely to buy said chocolate in the future if I discover that I like it.
The Remote Viewer: Not analogous. If he had said shoplifting the CD made him more likely to attend a concert, then you'd have a point.
Dr. Pwn: (to The Remote Viewer) Still not analogus. If he had said that shoplifting the CD made him more likely to buy future CDs, then he'd have a point.
Al Azif: (to The Remote Viewer) It's analogous if you consider shoplifting and copyright violation morally equivalent.
withak: (to Nodrog) More like if you magically created a chocolate bar from thin air at no cost to the manufacturer of the chocolate bars.
withak: (to Al Azif) In one situation someone's property has been taken away from them and in the other it hasn't.
durasteh: (to withak) There is such a thing as intellectual property.
withak: You can't take that away from the owner though, just redistribute it without permission.
durasteh: This is known as Intellectual Property theft.
withak: And is treated differently in laws from real property theft.

(via the SA Forums)

SomethingAwful Forums Thread
Stardock Release
The Consumerist Blog post
Rhino Records


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thanks for the post and the blog, protecting intellectual property is a challenge in the age of the Internets.

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