August 17, 2002

Commentary: Entertainment industry needs to try harder before focusing on DRM

- By Jason Hihn -

Digital Rights Management is not here yet. But when it comes, it will put us
at the control of the media companies. These companies' true interest lies
not in the well-being of the country, but making a buck. I fully
expect fair use to disappear.
Enter Palladium. I don't know if the conspiracy
theories about how it'll kill the GPL are appropriate (after all, doesn't it have to
interact with the operating system?) but one thing is for sure -- it'll be
damn annoying. I, for one, will never buy any hardware that is Palladium-capable without the ability to disable it. (Note to self: Maybe it's time to switch to
Apple.)

Palladium and other DRM efforts should not be on the PC, but on the network. Don't worry about what we do with it once we have it. (Does your DVD player have a 'Net connection to verify that you're legally renting a DVD?) But rather, we should try to control DRM if we get it.

There are numerous illegal ways to trade music and movies online, mostly P2P. But there are also legal ways, like PressPlay, but they don't get that great of reviews. The music industry gave it the good old college try, but those efforts have failed. Now the music industry can say that with the legal means available, there's just a bunch of
pirates out there and they need DRM on the PC. I would hope the industry
(where they make music and movies with multi-million dollar special effects)
has more creativity than that!

Largely it's the RIAA pushing for DRM, but the MPAA is tagging long, too, because one day the movie industry will be in the same boat, assuming broadband doesn't eat itself.

The key to DRM should not be the PC, but the network. DRM is nearly here, and it'll
work extremely well even if it's voluntary. The entertainment industry just has to make us want to use their services, and control access by controlling what they give out
and to who. If the industry abuses its position, then the situation will correct
itself through "piracy." Piracy should be a pain, and legitimate file sharing should be easy. Ease of use alone would get most people to use these services voluntarily and not
have them even bother looking into the illegal option.

Also, FUD campaigns would be
effective here. Who knows if what you're downloading is high quality, what
it says, or if it's safe. Who could you trust more than the industry where it came
from? Let's see a good second or third college try (third times the charm) on downloading services the public would use before we even start resorting to hardware and legislative solutions.

A more customer-friendly approach is, of course, hard to swallow for these companies that are used to total control. But for once, the consumer has an option. And these companies had better get used to it, because it's not up to the government to maintain a corrupt and abusive industry -- that is left to the marketplace. Sure, the entertainment industry is trying to legislate itself into safety rather than earn a living, but I've
already let my representatives know what I think about that. If better efforts at providing a customer-friendly service fail, the entertainment industry can still have PC makers voluntarily (or motivated through money) embed DRM hardware or software into the core of computers.

I'll adhere to DRM schemes if they're fair, but the minute the entertainment industry steps on my fair-use right, I'm outta here. I will always have the "piracy" (a.k.a
non-sanctioned methods if obtaining legal digital content) option to
exercise, so they'd better tread lightly.

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