Digital Rights Management sucks…except for the alternative

Is it possible for both sides—content producers and consumers—to lose the DRM war? Because they both deserve to.

The content producers—record labels, especially—make it so hard not to hate them. Digital distribution is exposing the fact that they add almost no value to the music publishing process they’ve been shepherding for the past fifty years. But what’s worse are the people who insist that DRM is unfailingly evil, neglecting the fact that it’s an attempt to solve a completely legitimate problem, i.e., people stealing content. The biggest complaint you hear from this camp is that DRM systems “treat everyone like a criminal.” My locked front door treats everyone like a criminal. Do you find that offensive? You shouldn’t. And at least when it comes to copying digital content, everyone is a criminal. I don’t know of anyone who hasn’t pirated music or software at some point, and this includes my parents. Doesn’t that at least justify the need for DRM, if not with the sometimes draconian restrictions that can be tied to it?

Ultimately, I think the solution to many of these problems—especially with video, which needs a rental component in order to work the way people want—is a very permissive, lenient DRM. I frequently got into a debate with the other founder of Zero G Software on the subject of software piracy: my point was that our product, a software application, shouldn’t be any harder to pirate than our competitor’s product. If someone’s going to pirate one of our products, I want it to be ours. At least then we’d have a shot at getting some upgrade and tech support dollars, in addition to increased mindshare. I never won this argument—our DRM was always a lot stricter than theirs—but the argument still sounds valid to me. It would be nice if the music producers felt the same.

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One thought on “Digital Rights Management sucks…except for the alternative

  1. Hi,
    Couldn’t locate your email address, but I’m hoping this finds its way to you. First and foremost, your movie rocks.

    I am teaching a 2-week class on pinball to a bunch of enthusiastic high schoolers at the end of February-first week in March. I know this a bit 11th hour and all, but I would love to have you visit our classroom to show your amazing doc/speak to the kiddies. We’re in Lafayette, 25 minutes from SF during non-hellish hours. At the very least, I’d love to get my hands on on early copy of the film (from the Web site it seems like I wouldn’t be able to get it through normal channels ’til March).

    Please let me know if you might be interested, and we’ll talk specifics.

    Thank you,

    Wendy

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