DRM Daydreams

I’m not happy.

This isn’t a particularly rare occurance in itself.  What am I not happy about? Digital Rights Management and Copyright Protection.

Again, not a particularly rare occurance.

My friend Minion over at the Infinite Phoenix has been a bit rattled lately about Net Neutrality.  Whilst this is an important issue, i’ve found it hard to get excited about it lately.  The potential ramnifications are interesting, but it all seems a bit distant.  If it gets in i’m sure i’ll get more excited one the US, as is its way, attempts to force it on the rest of the world and our government kowtows to them, as is its way.

What does get me wound up though is DRM – so obviously i’ve been wound pretty tight the last few years as RIAA and the MPAA have run roughshod over any pretense of consumers rights and expect us to pay them to do it.  A perfect example of the problems with DRM is the current problems with PC Game protection. There are a number of copy protection schemes that use various tricks to ensure an original disc is inserted in the computer before the game will play. None of them work – most high profile games have no-cd cracks within days of release or sometimes -before- official release.

There is only one copy protection scheme that causes the cracking community serious problems and that is a protection called StarForce.  Cracks still come out for the games, but it can take a lot longer.

So why did Ubisoft come forth recently and announce they were ditching Starforce as a copy protection provider – to the joy of Ubisoft fans everywhere? Because not only can pirates not play the game but huge quantities of legal game purchasers are also blocked, despite doing everything right.  False positives.

I’m of the belief that false positives are unacceptable in this area. Every one is potential sales lost from anger and frustration.

The problem that us, as consumers, and the big companies are having is that we’ve had completely different opinions of what we’ve been doing for the last few decades. We thought we were buying music, or movies, or whatever. When I went down to the store and bought a cd I believed I owned that cd.  I could listen to it in my stereo, on my computer, on my friend’s stereo.  I’d lend it to friends in exchange for borrowing some of theirs if I felt like it.  It was my cd.

The record company that sold that cd? They didn’t think so. They didn’t sell me a physical thing, they believe they sold me the -right- to listen to that music. The right to listen to that cd.  Technically I wasn’t suppose to lend it to friends – they were supposed to have to buy the -right- themselves.  But profits were big and the companies didn’t sweat what was out of their control completely.  Besides, if my friend liked that album a lot, he might buy it himself.

Of course, now he could just make a 1:1 copy. And thats what started the companies getting worried. You see, it didn’t matter that we thought we were buying a product when we were really buying rights because they amounted to the same thing at the time. So long as we couldn’t make perfect copies of the product, only one person could have the cd at a time, which amounts to a single right being passed about anyway.

Now the problem shows itself. If I sit down with a chair and, using it as a reference, build myself another chair identical to the first – theres no problem. I didn’t buy the right to sit in the chair, or the right to look at the chair, I bought a chair. Its mine. If I want to copy it and give it to my friends so we can all have the same chair, and I am capable of doing that, then there is no problem. They don’t all have to go to the person who designed the original chair and buy their own – you don’t hear about chair pirates.

In theory, if we were buying music, there should be no problem with copying that music and passing it to our friends. And if the music industry was half as smart as they think they are, they would embrace that world view – because the other doesn’t work.

You cannot sell rights to consume.  To use another overblown metaphor, its the same as the owning a statue and anyone who wants to look at the statue, the -right- to look, has to pay a fee.  However we can’t stop people who havn’t paid from looking – so we have to sabatage their ability to look.  So what we’ll do is take out everyone’s eyes, and then only sell eyes that recognise a “Do not see” flag, so they self-block out anything the owner hasn’t paid to see.

Can you see the daftness of what they are trying to do? We’ve invented these great devices that put more informational power in our hands than ever before. We can not only carry music on discs or harddrives, but we can copy it perfectly so that it can be archived -forever-. We have the ability to store 20 years of a band’s music on a single dvd, and in a matter of days transfer hundreds of copies around the world to people who have never heard of them.

We developed the technology and they want to cripple it to ensure they can continue to make money the same way they did twenty years ago.

I’ll say that again because it is the crux of the entire issue.  In order to protect their business they wish to cripple our tools.

Any business plan that requires, for its success, that technology, abilities or rights be taken away from consumers is fundamentally flawed. Now that we have evolved the technology to download movies direct from the net rather than buy them on video the movie industry wants to introduce mechanisms into the technology to prevent you from watching it more than once – to prevent you from doing what you could do years ago -without- the new technology. They would have us go backwards!!

The madness needs to end.  A changing landscape means that the businesses that provide to consumers need to change with them. I’m calling for a new generation to step in and offer a better way.

How is this for an idea.  Get some investors along and we’ll build a website.  A website with big chugging servers to handle hits and commerce.  We’ll integrate bittorrent technology into the webapplication so that bandwidth can be shared through downloaders in the same way Blizzard have managed for delivering World of Warcraft patches.  What shall we do with this site? We’ll sell music.

Like iTunes we’ll sell music for a buck a track.  Albums can be packages as special deals, maybe with special artwork or interviews with the band ala dvd special features.  Speaking of dvd’s, we could sell direct downloads of them too. Concerts, At Home with the Band specials, the whole deal.

But theres a difference.  We wont licence music from Sony.  Or from BMI or Virgin.  We’ll licence direct from the bands.  Rather than resigning on to their record labels, bands could sign up with the website and deliver the music direct.  For each $1.00 track, 80c will go to the artist and 20c towards the running of the site. 

It’ll mean a lot of changes if it took off.  Artists would be responsible for their own quality control, arranging their own tours and promotional material.  Or maybe smaller versions of record labels specialising in those activities will fill the gap.  The record label can die off, an unnecessary behemoth in today’s more agile, more connected world, and the artists can reach directly out to the consumer without needing all that drm stuff.

People will copy. They always have, they always will. Just like people pass books around their friends after they’ve read them.  An excited fan will do more to get his friends into a new thing then a billion dollar ad campaign – the book publishing industry have known that for years – and thats what happens with music as well.  The album I copy for my friend today means he’ll be front row at your concert tomorrow with an armload of merchandise.

How many of your fans at your next show will have bought your album?  Who cares – they -all- paid $90 to get in.

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One thought on “DRM Daydreams

  1. That’s one of the better summaries of the issue I’ve read in a while. This issue has seen big business get away with far too many underhanded tactics (Sony and rootkits anyone?). I’d support such a site, but I bet every major record label out there has clauses in their contracts to try and stop bands from signing up.

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