June 20, 2006
DRM Debate with the MPAA's Fritz Attaway

The Wall Street Journal Online invited me to debate DRM with the MPAA's Fritz Attaway: WSJ.com - '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.

Posted by Wendy at June 20, 2006 09:30 AM | TrackBack

> iPods that need their songs re-purchased after one too many computer crashes

Come on Wendy... What you're discussing there is an issue with Microsoft's music service. The iTunes Music Store (which is what I expect you meant to say when you said iPod) lets you back-up (they greatly encourage in the documentation) your music from the iTunes Music Store. They'll gladly reset the authorized computer list to if you contact them and explain your computer died. No re-purchasing necessary, at least from the iTunes Music Store.

Posted by: Anonymous on June 20, 2006 05:02 PM

It's a shame Mr. Ataway had a plane to catch. I loved this part:

"DRM is not intended to prevent commercial piracy."

Posted by: Andrew on June 20, 2006 07:57 PM

Anonymous, my point doesn't depend on it being impossible to reauthorize an iTunes song -- even the phone call makes it more difficult than it would be without DRM. At that point, and it will be a different point for different people, the customer will tend to wonder why he's paying for non-features, when a track obtained from p2p would never require re-authorization or phone calls.

Posted by: Wendy on June 20, 2006 09:31 PM

Hi Wendy,

I enjoyed your discussion with Fritz Attaway, but I thought that it combined two issues that should be treated separately. The potential for creative re-use of digital content is interesting, but in my mind separate from copy protection and usage control, which are the primary goals of current DRM systems. I think the number of people who are interested in creating mixes and parodies, to name two, is far smaller than the number of people who just want to listen to music or watch videos. It's not surprising, then, that DRM systems are designed to deal with the perceived piracy threat from the mass market, at the expense of the small number of creators.

The copy/control part of DRM may only be a temporary phenomenon, as media companies move from generating revenue from "things" (CD's, DVD's, files) to generating revenue from services and other non-tangible assets. There are already commercial music services (eMusic.com) that sell DRM-free files, for example.

On the creative side, I agree that people whould be free to remix and adapt existing content, but only if the content creator agrees. This is not just a commercial or DRM issue. Creative Commons, for example, supports "no derivative works" licenses. Do you see the need for technological means to enforce those?

Posted by: Oren Levine on June 22, 2006 01:47 PM
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