DRM is failure in action
By Andy Kaiser
Article ID: 133
I was born in 1975. The media of my childhood consisted of cassette tapes and VHS tapes. Only years later did I get to play with CDs and DVDs. I was also born during that magical time when one could still find a functioning 8-track cassette player, or cumbersome 8-inch reel-to-reel tape players. Convenient they were not.
But with any of them you could still easily break copyright law.
This certainly isn’t just within my generation. My dad has told me stories from his college days, when he would illegally record someone’s music on to his analog reel-to-reel tape recorder.
Copyright violations have always been possible, even easy, but not until CDs brought us digital audio was copyright theft so fast. A copy and paste technique is all that’s needed to give my music to you. Today, we can email music, download bittorrent collections, acquire illegal movies and software in minutes or even seconds. This speed advantage is a major reason why certain agencies are so upset. In particular are their legal representatives, the MPAA and the RIAA (these are the Motion Picture Association of America and the Recording Industry Association of America).
DRM stands for “digital rights management”. In the old days, this was called “copy protection”. DRM is copy protection for digital products. It’s often a software restriction or a type of encryption. It’s intended to prevent the unauthorized copying of the music on your iPod, the movies in your DVD collection, the ebooks in your ebook reader, the programs on your computer, and any other digital media you’ve purchased.
The big problem is that DRM doesn’t work. Every mass-distributed DRM scheme has been compromised – every single one. If you want to copy one of your “uncopyable” DVDs or other media, yes, there are plenty of tools to do so.
DRM hurts the consumer: it penalizes people who have legitimately purchased their media. And since DRM is compromised so easily and quickly, those who want to break the law can still easily do so. If this is a deterrent, it’s a remarkably ineffectual one.
You may accuse me of taking the side of the consumer because I don’t stand to lose anything from having people steal copywritten material. Actually, I do stand to lose. I have multiple websites that make money from the content they provide. I’ve written some fiction ebooks and sell those online. And I have no DRM or limited-use mechanism in place. I made this decision intentionally, for three reasons:
1) Today’s technology is beyond the point where DRM is practical. Content protection schemes inconvenience those who legitimately have a product, and are just a tiny speed bump to those who want an illegal copy.
2) The Internet has changed the availability and presentation of media, and copying (legally or illegally) is commonplace. The days of visiting a library to access a rare book are fading into the past. The previously rare books are now online for everyone to see. Everything is coming online. Everything is getting easier and easier to access.
3) The cost of digital media should be very low, and is therefore less likely to be pirated. Take ebooks as an example: when you purchase a traditional book, a part of that cost is for the creation of the book itself. The book has to be physically printed, bound, warehoused and distributed. This is a majority percentage of a book’s price tag. Ebooks have a very low (or zero) cost for physical media. Yes, the artist and their representatives should get paid for their efforts. One reason piracy happens is because the cost of an object is perceived as unfair, and not worth the price. The actual production cost of digital media is very, very low. The final prices should reflect that.
The intent of DRM – protecting the interests of copyright holders – is a noble idea. But it’s also archaic and easily circumvented. Unfortunately, it will take time for those in power to recognize this. They need to realize that you can’t protect 21st Century media with 20th Century thinking. They need to grow up and work with the world as it is today, not what it was fifty years ago. During the transition away from DRM and towards a – for lack of better term – meritocracy, we will see lawsuits and corporate spin. We’ll see crackdowns and fines. And inevitably, they’ll all go away to be replaced by something else. I can’t say what that “something else” is just yet. But we can intelligently predict these four probable outcomes:
1) Digital media (like ebooks, music and video) will be incredibly cheap compared with today’s non-digital counterparts.
2) Digital media will not be restricted to one particular device.
3) Distribution to the audience will be increasingly managed by the creator. Large companies might still be needed for publicity, but actual electronic distribution is easy. If you have a website and a computer, you can easily and cheaply distribute your own media yourself.
4) A talented person will be able to live by their creative talent without DRM.
So what’s next? We need to be patient while digital rights management thrashes around for a while. And we need to be available to help the next generation of media take over. We’ll get there. How do we make this happen? We have to wait, watch, and – most importantly – never stop creating.