IEEE Working on Alternative DRM Approach

Technology Review has a piece covering some shifting in the industries understanding and application of DRM; namely that the days of railroading customers with products that won’t work and then not offer refunds will hopefully come to pass in the coming years.

Ferdinand Schober, grad student previously at Microsoft who worked on the Halo and Gears of War franchises states that ultimately game companies are moving to a software-as-a-service approach where the verification of ownership is done on the company’s servers.

An example of this would be Valve’s Steam system, as soon as you login you have your “library” of games that you can install and run as long as your login credentials were correct. You own those games; at least the ones without additional publisher-mandated DRM outside the default SteamWorks DRM.

In an effort to bring consumers and publishers back to a common ground where both can be happy with their purchases, the IEEE is working on clearly defining “digital personal property” in terms of our new era of digital downloads, where no physical or “boxed” copy of the software exists.

Paul Sweazey of the IEEE explains a sort of Private/Public key access system used to verify ownership of a piece of software before it is run along with an encrypted file; allowing the digital software to still be re-sold by providing access to that original private key:

Sweazey stresses that the group just started meeting, but he explains that the idea is to sell games and other pieces of software in two parts–an encrypted file and a “play key” that allows it to be used. The play key could be stored in an online bank run by any organization, and could be accessed through a URL. To share the product, the player would simply share the URL. Anyone with access to the URL could claim the play key for himself, Sweazey says, meaning that users would be unlikely to share the URL on the open Internet.

I’m not entirely clear how this is different than the CD Key approach many pieces of software (namely system software) already use. You can resell the software, but the CD Key goes with it and now both parties have the ability to “use” the software.

Software companies began working around this 10 years ago by keeping track of “activations” of the software and denying future use if the software had already been activated “X” times; or by multiple people/IP addresses/computers.

We will have to wait and see how this upcoming IEEE attempt rectifies this and hopefully moves us towards a future where publishers and consumers are more complementary to one another instead of constantly being antagonized by the necessity of each other.

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