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When DRM Spoils the Party


This week I have been mostly playing with my new toy, a Sony Ericsson V800 mobile phone. Riyad first reviewed this back in January, and liked it a great deal. He even mentioned the fact that I wanted one, save for the high price of the handset. Well, sure enough, the price of the phone has come down so that it’s even available for free depending on the monthly tariff you choose.

The reason I wanted the phone was basically because I needed a new techie toy to play with - it keeps me sane. You might wonder why this is so seeing as my job involves getting hold of the latest technology all the time but you see, manufacturers have a very nasty habit of asking for their goods back (I know, the cheek), and after playing with the latest stuff, your own kit starts to look a little dated. And my old phone was past its sell-by date. Behind its screen, not only did it have more dust than the Sahara but it even had a piece of grass that moved around in mysteriously unpredictable ways.

The V800 however, is a thoroughly attractive piece of kit, though regular contributor Leo thought it is was, and I quote, “absolutely grotesque”, but as they say, one man's junk is another man’s gold, or something like that.

At least most people think it’s stylish and not just because it won the accolade for the “Best 3G Handset” at the 3GSM World Congress in Cannes earlier this year. This award was actually given for it having, “a great user interface and exceptional functionality across a range of features”, and not just because it looks snazzy while swanning around the beaches topless at Cannes.

Now I won’t go into the details of why this is such a great phone as Riyad did such a good job in his review but suffice to say that after a few days, things turned out not to be quite so perfect in gadget land. I’m going to gloss over the fact that I had to get a replacement as my first handset actually died on me on the very first day (!), and move straight to what happened when I tried to use an MP3 that someone had beamed over to me as a ringtone. I first heard it when someone popped over to the office and their mobile rang (hello Adam!). It was the ring of the phones at CTU (Counter Terrorist Unit) from the insatiably addictive show that is 24. I had to have it, even at the risk of violence from Workmate Jalal who said that if I ever used he would punch me every time the phone rang. (Jalal has since downloaded the same ring tone for his SPV - ed).

So Adam beams over the MP3 to my phone. I play it. But when I tried to assign it as a ringtone I was confronted with the message, “Cannot use this file as DRM protection key is missing”.

Er, excuse me?

Oh yes, ladies and gentlemen, it was our old friend DRM (Digital Rights Management). Now, anti DRM ranting may have been done to death, but the fact is that it is still very much an issue. You may not notice it but it’s there. And just when you least expect it, like a rabid dog, it comes to bite you on the bottom.

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