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A Sensible Answer to DRM

December 3rd, 2005 Leave a comment Go to comments

David Berlind has a great piece on a reasonable answer to DRM: Watermarks: A better DRM than DRM itself?. Now anyone that knows me can attest to the fact that I get pretty irate that the established media companies have decided it makes more sense to treat their customers like criminals than to try to find a way to profit from selling their wares via the Internet. Let us not forget that when the VCR was first introduced, these same titans of industry claimed it would be the end of their very livelihoods – it’s hard to forget Jack Valenti’s quote:

I say to you that the VCR is to the American film producer and the American public as the Boston strangler is to the woman home alone.

It certainly doesn’t take a degree in rhetoric to catch his meaning. Of course this quote was from testimony to a Congressional panel…in 1982. We visited California a while back and we stopped at Universal Studios. I could have been mistaken but it sure looked like they were doing fine and we’ve had VCRs for quite some time now. I find it so ironic that had the movie industry achieved their goal of killing the VCR, they literally would have walked away from billions and billions of profits and we might only remember the Olsen twins as those cute little kids from that TV show.

That said, I understand the need to protect those that create – artists and authors should be fairly compensated for their work but this protection should not come at the cost of fair use. Recently, I’ve been buying some PDF books and I noticed that Pragmatic Programmers use a watermark of sorts – at the very bottom of the page, it says “Prepared exclusively for Nate Schutta.”

Watermark from a Pragmatic Programmer book.

Now, as an author, I certainly wouldn’t start passing around another author’s work without permission but I would have to expect people will think twice before running 20 copies of chapter 4 knowing their name would be on each and every one. Considering the other, more invasive approaches I’ve seen I think this is a great approach – it certainly beats a freakinrootkit!

I realize that I’m just a software guy, but I just don’t get how the leaders of these media companies can’t understand how much harm they cause themselves when they insist on clinging to a dying channel instead of embracing the new. Seriously, haven’t they read The Innovator’s Dilemma? Look what happened with the video iPod – Apple sold over a million videos in a less than a month – imagine what will happen when more shows, movies, and what not are available. How many would they have sold if you could have downloaded 24 and ER? Or the Simpsons and Family Guy? Now, I’m not sure how much of a profit ABC gets from iTunes but clearly it’s a new revenue stream. I honestly think if the RIAA and MPAA would spend just a fraction of their lawyer fees on finding a way to profit from the Internet instead of trying to find a way to stop it, they would be looking at massive new income streams.

But that’s just what I think. If you’re convinced the RIAA and MPAA are doing the right thing, I strongly urge you to take a look at this presentation from Lawrence Lessig and by all means, read Free Culture. You may also want to take a look at Security, DRM, and Sony from Distributing the Future on O’Reilly as well as Cory Doctorow‘s talk on DRM at Microsoft. If we don’t start standing up for our fair use rights, we may soon awake to discover that we don’t have any.

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