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September 11, 2004
Calling the DRM Bluff
Fellow Copyfight author Wendy Seltzer has a new Legal Tags post responding to the news that TiVo and ReplayTV have agreed to hobble their products with digital rights management (DRM). Therein, she compares and contrasts the story the entertainment industry tells about DRM with what history teaches:
The story, as these entertainment producers tell it, is that without DRM, no recording at all would be permitted of pay-per-view. Or, if they couldn't control the tech to stop consumer recording, they wouldn't even broadcast some content in the first place...In that case, individuals are left with the choice between DRM-encumbered content and none at all.
Would mass entertainment cease to be if mass producers couldn't restrict the choices of their audiences? No, no more than musical composition stopped when courts ruled that the piano roll wasn't an infringing reproduction or sound recording stopped when audio artists had no public performance right. Scrappy upstart technology companies disrupted the business of producing music, but when producers couldn't control the technologies of distribution, they changed their business models instead.
So far, it looks like the entertainment industry is succeeding in doing everything but
change business models. Indeed, it's working to persuade lawmakers to change the law to protect old business models, while supporting attacks on doctrine
shown to enable new ones. Meanwhile, we -- the lowly customers without which the industry wouldn't exist -- get to "enjoy" less and less functionality for more and more money.
So what do we do about this? There's been plenty of discussion about, though little movement toward, building a "GeekPAC." But Wendy reminds us that there's a simpler, more direct route to influencing the industry: refusing to purchase DRM-hobbled products:
Too much of the public is willing to sell out the benefits of competition and creative destruction for the shorter-term promise of entertainment content. If we could instead commit ourselves to rejecting DRM, we'd force the entertainment industries to a test of whether they'd really shut down rather than offering open content, and we'd leave room for innovation in the creation and delivery of mass entertainment content.
To that end, Wendy is leading a project at EFF that could serve as a shopper's guide of sorts for innovative -- and because of that, endangered -- technologies; we plan to unveil it in November, just in time for the Thanksgiving/Christmas shopping season. Stay tuned.
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