Hollywood: Give up on DRM

Check out this ars technica article. It describes the lengths that Hollywood is more than willing to go to prevent piracy of its movies from Blue-Ray and HD-DVD discs. For example, to prevent such content from being copied when played on a computer, decrypted video cannot “be present on any User-Accessible Bus in analog or unencrypted, compressed form,” because users might otherwise find a way to record such content. And that’s just one of several DRM (Digital Rights Management) “robustness rules” with which Hollywood wants to burden companies such as Microsoft and Apple.

I fully expect that the end result of this (as has been the case with previous Draconian DRM measures) will be that legitimate users get punished more than any potential pirates. We users will be punished via the increased cost of the hardware and software needed to enforce these rules as well as the increased inconvenience of the restrictions that prevent us from accessing the content in ways that are or should be perfectly legal.

Hollywood folks aren’t even willing to entertain (pardon the pun) the idea that maybe, just maybe, after I have purchased the VHS version of a movie, purchased the DVD of the same movie, and then purchased it again to get the special “Criterion” edition, I should be entitled to some discount when I purchase the Blue-Ray version. But that’s another story.

It has long been my contention that, if I purchase a DVD, I should be able to do whatever I want with it, as long as it does not include providing the content to others. So, if I want to copy the movie to my iPod, make a back-up disc, or whatever else, I ought to be able to do so — without any hassles or impediments.

Clearly, the entertainment industry disagrees. It’s not so much that they disagree in principle with my position. It’s just that to allow what I want would make it too easy for pirates to make illegal copies. This cannot be allowed in their view. To prevent this abuse, something must be sacrificed. So what gets destroyed are the rights of the legitimate users.

I have thought about this a good deal recently. I have tried to put myself in the shoes of the Hollywood executives. I am an author of several books. How would I like it if my books could simply be copied as easily as copying a Word file…and that such copies could be freely shared, given to people who never paid for the book? I would not like it. I would prefer that this not be the case. I would welcome copyright laws that say this is prohibited. Beyond that, there is not much else I would do.

The truth is that this situation already exists for my books. You can get my most recent book as a PDF file. Once purchased, you can copy it and give it to others. The same situation is also true, of course, for CDs. It is also the situation for anyone who has ever photocopied an article from a magazine to give to someone else, rather than buy another copy of the magazine.

I am sure that, if it were not so easy to do these things, more copies of books, CDs, and magazines would be sold. But so what? Times have changed. This is the technology that we live with. Despite these capabilities, publishers are still making money publishing books, artists are still making money recording and performing music, and magazine subscriptions are still a thriving business. Some of this “illegal” copying probably spurs sales. For example, after you read that article from the magazine, you may like it so much that you wind up getting your own subscription.

Regardless, my bottom line point is that we can’t go back in time to when these technologies did not exist. And we shouldn’t have laws and regulations that act as if we can. We just have to learn to tolerate a certain amount of piracy inherent in this system. We have to hope that there are enough people that are not inclined to break the law that we can still make a buck. We can also try to think of new ways to package these products so as to encourage legitimate purchases rather than illegal copies. Beyond that, leave the user alone and don’t burden us down with DRM rules that ultimately won’t work anyway.

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