At least get it right!

Digital Rights Management (DRM) is the collective name of a bunch of schemes that Big Content uses to try to keep people from listening to music or watching movies as they see fit. “Copy protected” CDs use DRM to keep folks from copying the audio tracks to their computers. Almost every online store uses DRM to keep people from downloading songs from, say, the iTunes Music Store, and uploading those files to a P2P network. DVDs have a DRM scheme called CSS that supposedly keeps people from “ripping” movies to computers – although CSS was broken so long ago that it’s trivial to bypass it.

The problem with DRM is that it doesn’t stop piracy and only inconveniences honest buyers. Pirates will always find a way to pirate content, but people that buy a product with DRM – such as a CD that cannot be ripped to a hard drive, and thus copied to an iPod – are screwed. For this reason, I’m vehemently against DRM in any way, shape or form. However, that doesn’t mean that I’m against accurate reporting too!

My case in point: Western Digital’s new My Book Network Storage System. It’s basically a portable hard drive that uses Ethernet to connect to your computer instead of USB or Firewire. Pretty cool so far, right? However, at the end of the “product features” section on the linked page, you’ll see this disclaimer:

Due to unverifiable media license authentication, the most common audio and video file types cannot be shared with different users using WD Anywhere Access. A list of the non shareable file types can be found here.

In the past couple of days, the Internet has blown up with stories (like this one from the BBC) about how the My Book is “crippled” with DRM and how it “won’t let you share MP3 and movie files!!!!!”. A bunch of “the sky is falling” reports have popped up everywhere, and many blogs are filled with comments from readers like “I’ll never buy a Western Digital product again!” and “I’m going to buy a Seagate and send a copy of the receipt to Western Digital to let them know how much business they’ve lost!”. Even better are huffy comments from “IT professionals” that claim to “order 96,000 hard drives a year through my job” and from now on they’ll “never buy a single Western Digital drive again!”

People, people… Relax! And while you’re relaxing, brush up on your reading comprehension skills, too!

This My Book drive comes with access to a service Western Digital offers called “WD Anywhere Access”. The service is somewhat similar to Orb, a free service that lets you access your movie and music files from any computer on the Internet. With Orb, you sign up for an account, then download and install a program on your computer. This program scans your hard drive for various movie and music files. When you’re away from home, all you do then is log in to your Orb account and you can watch the movies or listen to the music on your system. Anywhere Access works much like this, except that you can allow friends and family members to access the files remotely too… except for these types of files, which WD has banned on its network. YOU can access any file on the My Book using Anywhere Access, but you cannot let friends download your MP3s using the service. And locally – that is, on your home network – the device works exactly like any other NAS device.

So all of this anti-DRM hype leveled against Western Digital really is much ado about nothing. So you can’t use their network to share movies and MP3s. Big deal. Maybe WD’s lawyers thought the company could be sued for doing such a thing. Maybe WD doesn’t want to deal with the bandwidth costs of people sharing thousands of 700MB movie files. Whatever the case may be, at home the device works like any other hard drive. It also comes with a service that allows you to access any file on your My Book from any computer with an Internet connection. WD was nice enough to allow you to share certain types of files with others… but not all types.

What’s the big deal? Get over it already!

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