EA's Origin becomes a demonstration of DRM's drawbacks

October 31, 2016 | 09:24

Tags: #cuba #digital-distribution #digital-rights-management #drm #embargo #iran #north-korea #piracy #ukraine

Companies: #ea #electronic-arts

Electronic Arts has become an unfortunate demonstration of the dangers of digital rights management (DRM) technology, following a recent decision to begin enforcing US trade embargoes by cutting off gamers in countries including Myanmar, Syria, and Iran from their software libraries.

EA's Origin platform provides digital distribution services for the company's games, but has a side which is more important to the company: it also drives the digital rights management (DRM) system with which EA aims to stamp down on piracy. Even when EA games are purchased through third-party distribution systems like Valve's Steam, Origin is still required for its DRM role - and it's this role that has cut gamers in various countries off from their paid-for and previously problem-free titles, thanks to the company's scattershot and seemingly scatter-brained approach to trade embargo enforcement.

Previously, nations like Myanmar were able to browse the Origin store and purchase games thereon, with local gamers building up libraries of titles. A thread posted to social networking site Reddit this weekend, however, claimed that EA had suddenly and without warning cut Myanmar off from accessing Origin, making it impossible for gamers in that country to play the titles they had already purchased and installed. Soon, reports from other nations experiencing similar bans came in: Iran, Syria, Sudan, the Crimea region of the Ukraine, Cuba, and North Korea have all been confirmed by EA as being blocked from the Origin service.

The company has pointed to US trade embargoes which, it rightly points out, forbid EA from providing software services to residents of embargoed nations. Sadly, its approach appears to have been ill-managed: Myanmar has been under a US trade embargo for the past 19 years, longer than Origin has existed and during which time Origin purchases have been made without difficulty; in September this year, however, the embargo was finally lifted - which means that claims EA suddenly started enforcing an embargo which no longer existed point to poor management on the company's part.

EA has confirmed to press that it is working to restore access to Origin for users in Myanmar, though has not commented on its blocks on users in other regions. The fallout from the block and subsequent publicity, though, may cause many to question the benefit of DRM - known to critics as digital restrictions management - and the current trend to sell 'licences' which can be revoked at any time rather than products particularly in the face of companies like CD Projekt, which has spoken out against DRM and refuses to use it on its own distribution platform GOG.
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