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.