James Grimmelmann has some strong words about "Two Skirmishes in the DRM Wars: Half-Life 2 and Halo 2" over at Lawmeme:
"people who tried to log in to Microsoft's X-Box Live service to play Halo 2 with hacked X-Boxes have found their accounts suspended.
And on the other hand, copies of Half-Life 2 have started hitting retail shelves in advance of the "official" release date of November 16. Gamers who rush out to buy (sometimes extortionately priced) copies early, however, are finding themselves stymied: the game won't install without verification from Steam, the online platform Valve (Half-Life 2's creator) uses to deliver its games and coordinate online play. But Steam won't turn the game on until the 16th, per instructions from Vivendi (Half-Life 2's distributor).
Let's call these schemes by their right name: these are both examples of digital rights management working as intended. This is the future of digital media, here today: your copy of the product checks in with home base to determine what you can and can't do with it. And when the company that runs home base decides that it doesn't like what you're doing (be it tampering with your device's hardware or trying--oh the temerity!--to play a game a few days early), it can cut you off at the knees and disable your access to the game. That's what DRM does. Hey, gamers: you're getting a taste of the treatment the music industry has planned for us all. Do you like it?
Now, not all DRM is created equal. Microsoft's choice here was reasonably fair, I think. You can do whatever you want to your 'Box, but don't expect to be able to use a modded 'Box to compete against people who are playing by the rules. I look at X-Box Live as a kind of virtual world; it's not unreasonable for Microsoft to act as a referee by insisting that everyone who enters that world enter it on the same terms...
...The Steam lockout is more frightening, though. First off, note why it is that Valve won't turn the key: a contractual dispute with Vivendi. In fact, Valve and Vivendi are locked in a fierce legal struggle over distribution terms, with Vivendi furious that Steam might undercut its revenues from store-based sales. That's right: your ability to play Half-Life 2 is being held hostage to a licensing fight between two corporations."