Another Reason DRM is a Bad Idea: Patents
Posted by Ben Zeigler on August 4, 2010
I’ve been pretty critical of game companies using DRM before, but today’s article from Gamasutra points out another reason to stop trying. Uniloc, who is a DRM provider, is suing Activision, Sony, and Aspyr for patent infringement. The patent in question, “System for Software Registration” was filed in 1993 and has been the focus of a large amount of previous litigation. A jury awarded Uniloc $388 million in a suit against Microsoft (currently in appeal) over the exact kind of infringement being discussed. Macromedia (another DRM provider) settled with Uniloc over the same patent. As far as patent law goes, that’s a pretty strong case for it being valid. And considering Uniloc is a company built around intellectual property protection I would not expect them to stop enforcing this patent any time soon.
So, what is actually patented by Uniloc? I’m no patent lawyer so the following should under no circumstances be treated as anything vaguely resembling legal advice. The key seems to be the ability to generate a “digital fingerprint” of a particular machine and use that to authorize a limited number of product activations. It also heavily mentions demo vs. authorized mode (a concept I’m sure I saw in hundreds of shareware products prior to 1993). In broad terms it can be interpreted to apply to any form of DRM/copy protection that provides a unique license unlock that is only valid for one physical machine.
Not only is DRM that ties a purchased product to a specific machine actively user hostile (I’ve played my steam games on multiple computers over the years legitimately), it is legally risky. When you add to it how pointless it is, it’s hard to see how a responsible game publisher would consider such DRM to be a good investment.
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