DRM makes the easy and possible into the simply impossible

My old friend/drinking buddy/Dane County Supervisor Al Matano may remember me once back in late 2001 or 2002 going off at our favorite local bar about how so called “digital rights management” (DRM) was going to be a tool that a fanatical government or malevolent corporation would use to quell leaks.Turns out I was for the most part wrong about that. But actually, it was the music recording industry who embraced DRM with a zealous fervor rivaling that of their anti-file sharing campaign. (Are you compensating artists much, RIAA?) If you wanted to sell music online, it had to be wrapped in a thick hide of DRM protection.

The most famous example of this is and was Apple’s iTunes Music Store. For its first few years, every song you would buy via the iTunes Music Store was wrapped in an Apple-flavored DRM layer. This made it less likely that you would somehow share the music you bought via iTunes with your friends, which as anyone who made a mix tape in the ’80s knows is a horrendous crime. Moreover, quoting Steve Jobs, the fact that music was hermatically sealed in DRM meant that “music purchased from Microsoft’s Zune store will only play on Zune players; music purchased from Sony’s Connect store will only play on Sony’s players; and music purchased from Apple’s iTunes store will only play on iPods.” All this to prevent “illegal copies” of songs being passed around.

Needless to say, very few outside the recording industry had any love for DRM. Many online-rights activists and other sensible thinkers called for the purgation of DRM. Things began to change in early 2007 when Apple CEO Steve Jobs published an open letter (referenced above) saying that DRM will strangle the online music business. Apple got much praise for pushing music labels to offer un-DRMed music, which quickly became the standard method of operation.

So why then can I not restore a program I downloaded from the Apple “Apps Store” to my iPod Touch?

Thanks to a generous family member (thanks, SR!), I now have an iPod Touch on “extended loan.” Alas, the iPod recently began refusing to launch any and all third party applications. Perhaps it is more accurate to say that the programs crash upon startup. Either way, these programs that I had obtained on the iPod itself via the Apple “Apps Store” are rendered useless. Since I couldn’t seem to fix it by poking around on the iPod, I figured that totally resetting the iPod and wiping away its contents may set it right. But one reset later, I’m still stuck. Despite Apple’s apparent move away from DRM, it seems DRM has struck again. Consult the below error message.

Error FAIL.

DRM rears its ugly head, blocking me from restoring software to my iPod. While the innovative game Toy Bot Diaries was only one program that I paid for, you can see that there were six other programs that I could not restore. All becuase my MacBook was “not authorized for them,” not only is DRM keeping me from using the the four free programs I had once downloaded, it is barring me from using the ones that I paid good money for!

As an Apple user since 1981 and a Mac user since 1987, I expect things from Apple to just work. I don’t suffer from corrupted registries, endless viruses, or the Blue Screen of Death. But now, for the first time since trying to install Quark XPress 4.0, I am blocked by impertinent access rights. What should have been a simple reinstallation turned into a DRM layer cake with a nasty copy-protection troll waiting to burst out and ruin the party.

Update: To Apple’s credit, I was able to re-download all the programs for free, including the ones I had bought. That’s good, but unless I missed soemthing in the fine print of the legal language, there had been no indication that I would be able to do so. And to this date I have not been able to find a way to synchronize my iTunes Store authorizations between the iPod and my Mac. It just doesn’t have to be—and shouldn’t be—this complicated. That’s where much of Apple’s magic came from, from the first days of the Macintosh 128K, with its groundbreaking GUI and simple MacPaint and MacWrite programs. Hopefully this too shall pass. But in the meantime, I stand by what I’ve said.

Published by Jason Haas

I am a resident of the Bay View neighborhood in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and a member of the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors. That sometimes comes up on here, as it's kind of a small part of my life. No official county business happens here. I'm mostly using this now to give a rough draft account of how we're dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. God help us all.

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