The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently held a town hall meeting on the topic of digital rights management (DRM) in PC games, hosting three consumer-groups, 14 software/content industry representatives, and about one dozen academics from universities in the United States, France, and Switzerland, all of whom spoke in panels on the issues surrounding the protection methods. The folks from Reclaim Your Game (RYG)/The P.R.I.S.M. were there to fill us all in on what went down, and it's a fascinating report.
The three consumer groups were Electronic Freedom Foundation, Electronic Consumers Association, and Public Knowledge, each of which called for full disclosure of DRM methods used for games (it's either in fine print or not disclosed at all at the moment), rights for resale and fair use (the retailer's spokesman Crossan Anderson criticized DRM for diminishing these), and standardized end-user license agreements (EULAs), for which there are currently about as many as there are publishers.
Just as pirates can't all be painted with the same brush, it appears DRM-vendors can't either. Quite interestingly, one vendor from ByteShield supported not only disclosure and respecting consumer rights, but also DRM which removed itself automatically over time, eliminating the problem many gamers worry about due to authentication server shutdowns: whether or not they'll be able to play their game at some point in the future. With any luck vendors like ByteShield and Stardock will prevail over the likes of Sony (SecuROM), Tagès, etc.
In the other corner we have lawyers from the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA)/Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and other DRM-related organisations like 'BuyDRM' and 'Association for Competitive Technology'. I'll let RYG take over for this part:
Naturally, these folks did their best to make DRM sound like a positive thing enabling 'choice', and the Digital Millenium Copyright Act tantamount to a religious document for companies. Further complicating the issue, they kept talking about DRM in the context of rental, or software-as-service, rather than on products that people buy with an expectation of ownership. On the issue of disclosure, these folks seemed to hope that they can get away with a tiny logo and not disclose the actual restrictions being imposed. On the issue of server shutdowns, one Steven Metalitz seemed to forget himself and accidentally revealed his callous disregard for consumers when he suggested that consumers should just buy the product again from somewhere else if such a thing happened. Unsurprisingly, this drew a frosty reception from all present except, surprise-surprise, the RIAA/MPIAA and their allies. This attitude shows exactly why consumers need the FTC to smack these companies with a clue-stick: and hard.
For those concerned about these sorts of things, feel free to check out our blog post (link below) detailing how you can get yourself heard by the FTC.