Sunday, December 25, 2011

Digital Rights Management enables and encourages piracy.

Digital Rights Management 2005-10-19

In 1972, before Betamax and VHS, there was a consumer videotape system called AVCO Cartrivision. Cartrivision had black retail cartridges, and red rental cartridges which could not be rewound by ordinary players. This was to prevent people from watching a movie a second time without paying again. This feature was demanded by the Studios as a condition of their cooperation. The system was a commercial failure. Later, Betamax and VHS were developed without the cooperation of the Studios, so the Studios attempted (and failed) to legally suppress them. This led to the creation of Home Video, which generated a vast amount of money for the Studios. They make more money now in Home Video than they do in theatres.

The system the Studios liked failed. The system the Studios hated made them wealthy. The Studios do not know what is in their own best interest.

Engineers are famous for producing systems that are far too difficult for ordinary people to use. This is because they are unable to understand the user experience. The Studios suffer from the same problem. They liked the tape system that could not rewind because they thought they were entitled to more money every time their program is watched. But they did not consider that rewind is a convenience. It allows you to playback a section that you may have missed because there was a distraction in your home, or to play again a scene that you really enjoyed, or to start the show over for the person who arrives late. Very few people have the time to watch a rented movie more than once, anyway.

People have reasonable expectations about what they should pay for and what they should be allowed to do. The Studios' expectations are radically different. The Studios will use their clout to enforce their expectation with hardware (such as disabling rewind). They don't care if the hardware product fails. That's not their problem.

This brings us to DRM (Digital Rights Management). The Studios have been insisting that all digital media systems include special mechanisms to force their desires onto consumers. In particular, they want to extend the idea of Copyright to increase the amount of money they can demand from consumers.

US Copyright Law contains a doctrine of Fair Use. Fair Use allows a person to make certain uses of a copyrighted work without the approval of the copyright holder. It also contains a doctrine of First Sale, which says that the owner of a copy is entitled to do anything they like with the copy so long as they do not make another copy. So, for example, if I buy a book, I may then sell it to someone else, or loan it, or rent it, or give it as a gift.

The Studios do not like First Sale. They want to have the exclusive right to sell their works. They have been effective in forcing Congress into adding significant strength to Copyright Law, and in using the US Government to force its Copyright Law onto other countries. They have not been able to eliminate the doctrines of Fair Use and First Sale, so they are attempting to use DRM to technologically circumvent the law.

In a DRM regime, you do not buy a copy, you buy rights to use a copy. The rights could be to view it once, or to view it twice, or many times, or until a certain date. The rights could apply to a single device. The rights could include the ability to modify the work. The rights could include the right to share the copy with friends and family. The rights could include the right to access the special features.

The Studios enjoy the benefits of mass merchandising, but they do not like that there is one price for all. They want to be able to charge higher prices to people who value the content more. DRM is a way to do that. Also, DRM allows them to make their own copyright laws and have them enforced by the consumer's own devices.

The Studios are using the pretense of Piracy to justify DRM. They point to the reversals of the Recording Industry, claiming that if there had been better DRM in music, then the Recording Industry would not be suffering now. I believe that the Recording Industry's problems are not due to unauthorized copying. There are much deeper problems. I think they are wrong to blame their customers for their problems.

The Studios do have a real problem with piracy. Mass duplicators in China, India, and other places produce authentic looking unauthorized copies for sale at retail all over the world. This is clearly illegal. However, DRM will have no effectiveness in stopping this.

The Studios have another problem with piracy. They currently have a model which includes windows of exclusivity. A movie will open in theatres, and then some months later it is sold on DVD, and some time later again it is released on Premium Cable. The problem for them is that the theatrical release creates demand which they are unwilling to satisfy. This creates opportunities for pirates, who can bring DVDs to market before the Studios are willing to. DRM will have no effectiveness in stopping this. Fortunately, there is a simple, non-technological remedy: The Studios should release the DVDs sooner. Their product will be of much higher quality than the pirate product, and will be cheaper as well. Also, if they release the DVD at the same time as theatrical, they can save a lot of money in promotion and advertising.

DRM will have an effect in homes, making the use of media frustrating and confusing. DRM devices are designed to fail to do certain reasonable things. This is not good.

Ultimately, DRM will fail. The theoretical foundations of DRM are weak. In the long term, the Studios will be forced to abandon DRM, either because of consumer backlash, or because circumvention becomes so common that DRM becomes an annoyance to the Studios. For example, consumers like having the right to copy, and in some cases will pay more for content that comes with that right. Indeed, this is what the Studios are counting on. The obvious thing for a pirate to do is to produce copies that have no restrictions. This is the only way they can make product with higher value than the Studio product. So, instead of preventing piracy, DRM enables and encourages piracy.

As always, the Studios do not know what is in their own best interest.

Whatever happens, we are likely to see DRM for a while. HDMI (High Definition Media Interface) which is becoming the preferred cabling method for HDTV systems (such as STB to monitor connections) includes HDCP (High Definition Content Protection). BluRay and HD-DVD both contain AACS (Advanced Access Content System). DVD still uses CSS, even though it has been broken.

One of the biggest DRM problems is with interoperability. Most DRM systems are mutually incompatible, and there is no one system that works everywhere for everything. This is a problem without a solution.

In France, where there is a tariff on blank media, copy protection has been declared illegal by the courts. They found that the purchase of blank media includes a payment to producers to compensate them for copies, so preventing copying is immoral. This may spread to other countries with media tariffs.

This creates two problems for the Studios. They can no longer claim moral superiority when asserting their need for DRM. DRM cannot work in a networked world when whole countries are unrestricted.

Reprinted from Douglas Crawfords post on Google+

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