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DRM: These New Security Measures Will Not Stop the Tramps Getting In

In which I discuss the homeless, electromagnetic locks and DRM.

A few weeks ago, I arrived home to find my girlfriend thrusting a letter in my face excitedly.

"Look! They're finally doing something about those tramps!" she exclaimed.

Apparently the word 'tramp' is considered vulgar in American English, so let me first assure you that she was in fact using British English, referring to homeless people. Still a slightly vulgar expression, but when they're living in your basement, it can make you a little crude.

We live in an apartment building in the centre of Manchester. It's a lovely little place, but recently it's had a bit of a problem. A few homeless people have been using the apartment block's basement for escaping from the bitter cold.

Entry to the block is through a main front door, unlocked via key. Keys are held by every apartment resident. The homeless are apparently getting in by waiting for a resident to come along and unlock the door, then following in behind them.

I say 'apparently', because I've never technically seen one of them. The basement is only accessible via a lift, and there is no reason why a resident would want to go down there - it's just a bunch of boiler rooms, fuseboxes and the likes. I've been down there once to check my power usage.

To this end, I've not really been bothered by the news that there are guys in the basement. I mean, they're not bothering me and to be fair, it was stupidly cold this Winter. I can completely understand, however, why other residents would be a little uneasy about it all.

My girlfriend is one of these uneasy residents. "Take a look, they're changing the security to keep people out" she said, handing me the letter.

The letter, from the owners of the building, explained that new security measures were being put in place to stop unwanted visitors getting into the building.

These security measures involved the front door. The door would be replaced with a state-of-the-art magnetic locking system. A keypad panel would be installed next to the door, and a code would be given to each resident. Entering the code would unlock the door. No more need for keys.

The moment she saw me frowning, she knew I had some smart-alec reason as to why this was pointless/tedious/bad for some reason. "Don't you think it's nice to see them actually addressing the issue?" she asked.

Well, I explained, I'm not exactly sure how this addresses the issue at all. In fact, if anything, it makes the situation worse.

The homeless people were getting in by following residents through the front door. How exactly does a keycode entry stop them from continuing to do this?

Potentially, the homeless could now watch someone entering the code from a distance, then have free access to the building without having to wait around for people. Beforehand, they couldn't very well have forged their own damn key.

If anything, this new system is bad for the residents. Whereas there was no way I could ever forget my key - since I'd used it to lock my front door as I left - I could now potentially forget the code and be stuck outside the main front door waiting, ironically, for another resident to come along so I can follow in behind them.

The building owners were to introduce new security measures which, once you got down to the nitty gritty, did nothing to stop the problem (as long as the basement residents simply learnt the new system) and actually ended up hindering the people who paid money to live there.

Sound familiar?

I couldn't help but laugh to myself about how this was all very much like the whole DRM situation. Just replace the tramps with pirates, and the electromagnetic door and keycode with online verification and code registration.

Developers have every right to safeguard their work and try to keep non-paying gamers out. But introducing security measures which (1) make the experience worse for the paying customer and (2) are easily worked around by pirates with way too much time on their hands... is that really the best course of action?

We are all very much aware that piracy is a huge problem, but bringing down the experience for everyone through ridiculous DRM measures is fruitless. So is the effect of DRM on me, that over the last year I have gradually been moving over to console gaming. I now barely play any big releases on my PC anymore.

When the power to my front door fails and the code no longer unlocks it, will I be locked out of my apartment, with no means of getting in? I'm looking at you, Assassin's Creed 2.

[Michael Rose is a writer for and by day, and Batman by night.  He lives in Manchester, UK, with zero cats and zero dogs. And yes, they did introduce the damn door, and he did get drunk one night, forget the code and nearly fall asleep in the street.]

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