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Here we'll explore the nexus of legal rulings, Capitol Hill policy-making, technical standards development, and technological innovation that creates -- and will recreate -- the networked world as we know it. Among the topics we'll touch on: intellectual property conflicts, technical architecture and innovation, the evolution of copyright, private vs. public interests in Net policy-making, lobbying and the law, and more.

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June 20, 2006

Wendy debates MPAA's Fritz Attaway on DRM

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Posted by Wendy Seltzer

The Wall Street Journal Online invited me to debate DRM with the MPAA's Fritz Attaway: - 'DRM' Protects Downloads, But Does It Stifle Innovation?. He says it enables "consumer choice"; I say it disables user innovation and technology development.

Mr. Attaway begins: ...
The answer to the question, "Is digital rights management being implemented in a positive way?" is a resounding yes. Positive, but not perfect. Let me explain.

Digital rights management is the key to consumer choice. The better the DRM, the more choices consumers will have in what they view, when they view it and how much they pay for it. The only valid criticism of DRM is that some of the DRM technology currently in use is not sophisticated enough. But it is getting better. Users of next-generation DVD technology will have more choices than they do today because the DRM technology will be more sophisticated.


Ms. Seltzer responds: ...
You raise the example of DVD as a success story, but DVD players have hardly changed in the last decade. True they've gotten cheaper, but I still can't buy one (lawfully) that lets me take clips to create my own movie reviews or "Daily Show"-style send-ups of my favorite films. I still can't play movies on my GNU/Linux computer. When Kaleidescape tried to build a DVD jukebox to allow people to burn movies to an enclosed hard drive rather than shuffle jewel cases and discs, the company earned high reviews -- and a pricey lawsuit.

I'm working on a paper [hence the blog silence] in the same vein, examining the impact of DRM+DMCA on open source software development and technology innovation. The question isn't only whether DRM can accommodate fair use, as many scholars are now asking and answering equivocally, but whether it permits independent technology development. Many of the current DRM systems and proposed technology mandates could not be implemented in open-source software or open hardware; the DRM restrictions are incompatible with user-modification. I argue that's too high a price to pay to enable a few more pay-per-use business models.

Comments (4) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: IP Markets and Monopolies


1. nathan on June 20, 2006 2:39 PM writes...

You make a good point about the open source issue. Perhaps as open source gains in prominence and popularity, it will prove to be the death of overly strict DRM. Ultimately, I think DRM won't survive for economic reasons, and this open source point can definitely contribute.

Permalink to Comment

2. Crosbie Fitch on June 20, 2006 5:24 PM writes...

Yup Nathan, you're right.

Whining about DRM is a non-issue.

The market will decide between:
1) Maximalised, DRM crippled IP with pay per view, pay per pause, pay per skip ad, don't even think of copying in whole or part,
2: Copyleft - do what the heck you want, when you want, for free, and make five thousand copies or derivatives, and sell them LEGALLY with no royalties.

DRM = Doesn't Really Matter

Permalink to Comment

3. Nathan Jones on June 20, 2006 8:46 PM writes...

I'd love to believe that the market will decide that DRM won't matter in the long run. But I think the reality is that DMCA-style laws will continue to have a dampening affect on innovation and consumer freedoms.

Sure, in theory, we could (and should) all embrace works that don't use such technical restrictions. But the reality is that the vast majority of people -want- works from big companies that employ DRM. Members of the MPAA, RIAA, etc. know this. All they need to do is offer their wares only with DRM, then rely on the law to prevent the market getting around it.

The concept of competition is that you can buy from someone else if you don't like the price or features that one seller offers. This is only partially true for entertainment. If I don't like the offerings from Sony Classical, I can buy from Magnatune. But I'll get -different- music. If I want a particular album or film and it is not offered in an open format, I can only choose between DRM scheme x, DRM scheme y, or going without. That's not good consumer choice.

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4. Crosbie Fitch on June 21, 2006 3:57 AM writes...

Don't forget there is artist choice as well as audience choice.

Artists may prefer to sell their movies copyleft, precisely in order to enjoy a warmer embrace by their audience, and not least, other artists who have thus been granted the unimpeded freedom to build upon those works.

Traditional consumers conned into a belief they need soma may well continue in their Stockholm syndrome to support their traditional suppliers. Tradition is the wrong place to look for portents of the brave new world.

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