Apple's DRM Breaks MacBook Movie-Download Viewing
When I reviewed Apple's new MacBook laptop a few weeks ago, I thought I'd found plenty of reasons to consider this a questionable upgrade over the old model.
But I completely missed one of the new machine's bigger flaws. It turns out that Apple added a "digital rights management" subsystem to the DisplayPort connector on the new MacBook and MacBook Pro. This so-called DRM will prevent you from playing some iTunes Store video downloads when you have the laptop plugged into an older monitor.
Let's spell this out without the doublespeak of phrases like "digital rights management" (which doesn't manage your rights so much as minimize them): Apple chose to incorporate software whose sole function is to disable parts of the computer.
And this DRM system doesn't even come into play when the user does something objectively bad with a movie, like upload it to the nearest file-sharing network. It slaps on the cuffs when the user merely plugs the laptop into a monitor that -- like most used today -- don't support the proprietary High-bandwidth Digital Copy Protection standard. (Most newer HDTVs, by contrast, do comply with HDCP.)
In doing so, Apple reduced the value of this laptop, compared to models with video outputs that work all the time. It reduced the value of any video download infected with DRM, compared to files that don't veto your choice of display devices.
Apple also wasted the time and talent of employees who could have worked on features that customers actually want.
These are not new problems with DRM-enforced copy
protection prevention, and Apple should be familiar with all of them -- remember, it's trying to abolish DRM outright on music downloads. I can only wonder how the movie studios got to Apple this time around -- and why the studios, for their part, remain so militantly clueless about the lessons to be had from the music business's sad history with DRM.
It's still unclear how many iTunes downloads come with tags that trigger the new MacBook's DRM, so I'd like to hear from anybody who has run into this problem. But since I missed the first evidence of this problem when I wrote my review, I also have to ask new MacBook owners how they feel about learning of this hidden feature only after making their purchase.
November 21, 2008; 8:50 AM ET
Categories: Gripes , Mac , Video
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