Sunday, February 26, 2006

imho DRM9


Found content (had to search Google’s cache for this article, though it’s only a little over three months old—perishable content—had already perished—only the persistent can dig it out—but dig I did):

My take:

DRM is another name for anti-piracy technology. The original anti-piracy technologies were armor, fortresses, ramparts, moats, and sharp swords. All of which leads the mind toward the basic economic situation that fosters organized piracy: booty is concentrated, but desire is distributed.

DRM is an acronym that invites mockery: defensive rearguard maneuvers by desperate restriction mongers. The more persistent and distributed the desire for whatever booty Sony and other copyright holders hold, the more defensive and desperate these fortresses will grow. All of which makes me think that Inside Digital Media analyst Phil Leigh just totally misses the mark. According to the referenced article, Leigh “believes that rather than adopting technological methods to try to stop unauthorized copying of music, record companies need to do more to remove the incentive for piracy.”

Like what? How are the Sonys of the world going to extinguish people’s desire for music, movies, TVs, video games, and art and culture in general? At what point in the development of the human species will people no longer crave these forms of creative stimulation? If you can’t snuff out people’s desire (and, along with that, all demand for Sony’s products, hence Sony’s continuing existence), then the only ways to remove the incentive for piracy are:

  • Give away all content for free (and thereby also kill the gander that gathered the golden eggs), or
  • Trust that some customers will pay for some content some of the time, if you keep the virtual shelves continually well-stocked with fresh goodies; don’t overprice the wares; supply it all through channels and packages that are easy, convenient, and pleasant to find, access, and consume; and allow consumers to actually take ownership in the content, to copy, backup, mix, mash, and generally have their way with the material to their hearts’ delight
Trust the consumers. Believe it or not, they want to encourage artists to continue making great music, movies, books, etc., and they will compensate artists according to the reasonable value of their works. But they will seek less expensive (and less legal) alternatives when the artists’ precious outputs are overpriced. That’s just a basic, inevitable fact of any economic order.

Respect the consumers and don’t treat them like potential shoplifters. As the article states: “The challenge has been to find an anti-piracy tool that works well enough to please the industry without overly annoying users, many of whom want to make legitimate backup copies of their CDs and don't like being assumed to be criminals.” The article presents a smattering of annoying anti-copy techniques that the recording industry has inflicted on users (in addition to Sony’s notorious XCP rootkit):

  • “recording labels commonly sent music critics promotional material in portable players glued shut to prevent copying.”
  • “discs that included digital watermarks — extra encoding designed to lock the recordings, or at least their high-resolution portions — on the disc.”
  • “discs that contained data near the perimeter of the CD instructing a computer's hard drive not to look for audio tracks…[b]ut blocking that technology merely required drawing a line with a marker near the edge of the CD.”

The number one mistake that Sony made with its XCP rootkit was to imagine that they owned not just the music, but could also, without asking permission, arrogate their own persistent footprint on the computers of the consumers of that music. That was going too far down the spyware rathole.

DRM isn’t doomed, but it won’t usher in an age of absolute, perpetual institutional control over all content everywhere. Different content fortresses will continue to build their digital ramparts. But the digital hordes will continue to scale, trash, and torch every new barrier, as long as there’s fresh booty indoors.

DRM will be ignored completely in the new paradigm of consumer-created content, of which blogs are a harbinger. It’s ridiculous to imagine that any set of institutions can control even a tiny portion of the fount of creativity that springs from people’s souls and lives everywhere. In this new world order, few of us make a direct living from our self-published content, which we provide gratis to all comers. Instead, more and more of us are finding creative ways to leverage our self-published content into money-making endeavors of various sorts. Or simply self-subsidizing our creative selves with funds from “real jobs.”

Like creators have done since time immemorial.