In theory, digital rights management (DRM) is meant to protect the copyright holder's interests while not inconveniencing the customer. Why, then, is DRM so often badly handled?
A little while back, I picked up a copy of Ice Age: The Meltdown on DVD for my kids to watch. It's not the most stunningly fresh movie to be sure, but it was suitably cheap. I noted as I bought it that the packaging "Includes DVD+Digital Copy". Excellent, I thought; something else to throw onto the kid's iPad the next time I do a long road trip.
Except it's not quite that simple; in this case the studio (Fox) uses its own proprietary app, the rather optimistically labelled "Plays Everywhere", for movie download and watching, rather than through iTunes. It's not a new intiative, but the back of the packaging does promise "simple and fast transfer to your portable device".
To be fair, the app itself downloaded quickly, and lists a stunning total of five movies on the service; Chronicle, Ice Age, Ice Age: Dawn Of The Dinosaurs, Ice Age: The Meltdown and This Means War. Something tells me that Fox doesn't care about this particular initiative all that much, but I ploughed on, noting as I went that the terms and conditions — which you've got to agree to before you download — include the right for Fox to summarily discontinue access to the copy at any time without warning — but that wasn't really an issue.
Despite having a genuine copy, the app itself actually refuses to validate the code within the box. Searching online reveals that yes, this isn't a new issue, and indeed I'm far from the first to get stung by it. Technically, it would be grounds for a refund under Australian consumer law, although that would be an interesting argument; I'm not sure how many store managers would honour the faulty nature of the digital copy as grounds for a refund, although I'd be technically entitled to do so.
Plays Everywhere isn't new, but I'm struggling to come up with a DRM model that's less consumer-friendly than this is; not only does it use its own application for movie download and presumably playback — I don't know, because it doesn't work — but it's one that could be yanked away from you at any time without warning.
Now, I'm well aware that there's also a DVD within the box, but unless it has no copy protection on board, which seems unlikely given the lengths to which Fox has gone to annoy its customers with the digital copy, Australian law doesn't give me the right to rip it, even though the reality is that it'd be astonishingly trivial from a technical point of view to do so.
Or in other words, in an effort to digitally protect its own rights, Fox have made it considerably easier and more tempting for consumers to explicitly ignore them in the name of any form of convenience.