NBC Universal Argues That Copy Protection Is Necessary

from the good-luck-with-that-plan dept

The NY Times is running an ongoing "debate" all week concerning issues having to do with copyright. Defending the entertainment industry's strategy is Rick Cotton, General Counsel of NBC Universal, and well known around here for various questionable comments made to support NBC's position of demanding that the government act to enforce NBC's obsolete business model (our favorite remains his argument that corn farmers are hurt by piracy, since fewer people will go to movies, meaning fewer people will buy popcorn). On the flip side is law professor Tim Wu, who we believe has an excellent grasp on copyright issues (though, we don't always agree with him on telecom regulation).

The first part of the debate discusses whether or not copy protection is necessary. Not surprisingly, Cotton takes the "yes" position. While he comes up with a list of 7 reasons, none are close to convincing. He gets off on the wrong foot (and suggests either that he's willfully misleading or simply ignorant) by suggesting that infringement is no different than theft. It's tough to have a serious discussion on copyright and business models when you stake out that obviously incorrect position (theft involves something going missing, infringement does not -- even if both are illegal). The rest of his argument seems to revolve around two key points: that technology can be effective in stopping unauthorized file sharing and that the industry needs to stop unauthorized file sharing. Both points are wrong. He seems to be confusing two points on that first one. It may be true that copy protection can make it more difficult for an individual or some people to upload an infringing file, but it will never be possible to stop everyone -- and the second a single file is available for others, it no longer matters, because that one file is universally available to be copied. As for the argument that the industry needs to stop unauthorized file sharing, that's only true if the industry cannot come up with business models that embrace unauthorized file sharing and use it to its advantage. As we've already discussed, not only is this possible, it's already happening, and it's helping content creators to recognize business models where they can make more money than before.

Wu's response focuses in on some of that, by noting that it really is a business model issue, and that Cotton seems to ignore that. As Wu says: "digital locks are no substitute for a good business model." However, where Wu could be even stronger is in pointing to evidence, both historical and current, that other business models can actually be much better for content creators. Overall, though, it's a good response, and most of the commenters seem to side with Wu rather than Cotton. It will be interesting to see if Cotton actually responds to Wu's points (hopefully without just falling back on the talking points from his original answer), or if the debate just moves on to the next topic.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 15th, 2008 @ 7:54am

    Is it any wonder that someone would expect the laws to be enforced? Anyone?

    Hey, we can't stop Iran and other countries from getting nukes, so why bother? Let everyone have them, because once one gets out...right?

    Who says DRM won't work? Just because it has not yet doesn't mean it won't in the future. I would imagine there were a few people around who said "naaaa, man will never fly, this airplane will never work." Good thing the Wright Brothers and others didn't listen.

    Of course you don't like what Cotton says, he doesn't agree with your point of view.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
    identicon
    Fushta, Jan 15th, 2008 @ 8:07am

    You can't argue with an idiot

    If Rick Cotton is either purposefully misleading or just an idiot, what good is the debate in the first place.
    Isn't the whole purpose of a debate to convince the other person they are wrong? Or is it merely to propose your side of the issue and let the on-lookers decide.
    Either way, it's a waste of time. Copying will still happen. It doesn't matter what they do to protect from it.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3.  
    identicon
    Fushta, Jan 15th, 2008 @ 8:10am

    Re:

    "Hey, we can't stop Iran and other countries from getting nukes, so why bother? Let everyone have them, because once one gets out...right?"

    Regarding Comment #1, how can you insinuate that nukes and copyright can be compared? They are completely different and should be handled differently.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4.  
    icon
    Mike (profile), Jan 15th, 2008 @ 8:23am

    Re:

    Is it any wonder that someone would expect the laws to be enforced? Anyone?

    DRM has nothing to do with the laws being enforced. It has to do with making products less valuable as a backwards and unworkable attempt to protect a business model.

    Who says DRM won't work? Just because it has not yet doesn't mean it won't in the future. I would imagine there were a few people around who said "naaaa, man will never fly, this airplane will never work." Good thing the Wright Brothers and others didn't listen.

    This has been argued in-depthly elsewhere, but there's a pretty simple way to understand why DRM won't work: at some point you NEED to unencrypt the content in order to play it. And, there will always be some way to capture that unencrypted content. So, no, DRM cannot work in stopping all copies.

    Of course you don't like what Cotton says, he doesn't agree with your point of view.

    But you notice the difference between my post and your comment? I actually back up my explanation for why Cotton is wrong. It has nothing to do with us disagreeing. It has to do with the fact that he's wrong. People can disagree, but if that disagreement is based on incorrect assumptions, I don't see why they shouldn't be pointed out.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 15th, 2008 @ 8:24am

    Re:

    It's not a case of naysaying; DRM is a technically unsolvable problem. At some point you have to convert the media into an analogue format so it can be watched/listened to, and at that point it can be copied regardless even if it's as crude as filming the screen or sticking a microphone on your speakers.

    DRM fundamentally *cannot* work, and as the article states it takes one person with the know-how to break it and upload for the file to be available to everyone.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6.  
    identicon
    mike, Jan 15th, 2008 @ 8:27am

    pwnd

    pwnd

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7.  
    identicon
    RandomThoughts, Jan 15th, 2008 @ 8:33am

    DRM has nothing to do with the laws being enforced. It has to do with making products less valuable as a backwards and unworkable attempt to protect a business model.

    In terms of the laws being enforced, I wasn't referring to DRM, I was responding to your comment "support NBC's position of demanding that the government act to enforce NBC's obsolete business model"

    So its wrong for Cotton to ask that the law actually be enforced?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 15th, 2008 @ 8:39am

    Re:

    Your analogies are flawed.

    DRM is useless because it can always be removed. If it's possible to play a movie (especially on a computer) it's possible to copy a movie digitally without the DRM. Once a single copy is available without DRM, you've lost.

    Your nuke analogy is flawed because you can't digitally and instantly copy a nuke. Your airplane analogy is also flawed - a better analogy would be trying to prevent airplanes from being built.

    If you can come up with a better analogy, I'm sure the rest of us can here it.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9.  
    icon
    Mike (profile), Jan 15th, 2008 @ 8:39am

    Re:

    So its wrong for Cotton to ask that the law actually be enforced?

    What I was referring to was NBC Universal (and specifically Cotton) asking the US gov't to step in on CIVIL disputes -- which is exactly what's happened. NBC Universal has positioned the US gov't to start enforcing their copyright -- which is a civil disagreement between two private parties that should be settled between those private parties.

    It is not the job of the US gov't to side with one party in a private civil dispute.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10.  
    identicon
    Michael Milligan, Jan 15th, 2008 @ 8:44am

    Copy Rights

    I beleive bands deserve to make money from someone who is going to make money off of what they have done. There is a place for copy rights. Bars offer DJs that play music and the pay ASCAP to do so. Comercials pay artists to use their music to show off thier product. I don't agree that they should be taking people to court for saying "Hey I love this music and I think you will like it to so listen to what I have" They are basicly advertising for the bands, that created the music, for free, and then being sued for it. I go to concerts, I buy memorabilia, and I listen to music I enjoy on the radio. I would even be willing to pay a company like ASCAP for the rights to listen to any song I wanted to in the order I wanted to on any device I owned. There has to be a better way.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11.  
    identicon
    Wolfger, Jan 15th, 2008 @ 8:56am

    Re:

    "Who says DRM won't work? Just because it has not yet doesn't mean it won't in the future."
    The same people who say that pigs don't fly and that the sun will rise (or more accurately, the sun will continue to exist and the Earth will continue to rotate) tomorrow. In the entire history of mankind, no lock has ever been unbreakable. But that's completely irrelevant, because in the case of digital goods, the same company that install the lock also provides the key. If they *don't* give me the key, I cannot hear or see the goods, and will not buy them, so they must give the key. Now I have a key that opens the lock. How much security does the lock provide? Even a simpleton can figure the answer to that question out.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12.  
    identicon
    Wolfger, Jan 15th, 2008 @ 8:56am

    Re: Re:

    nukes and copyright should be handled the same, I think. Nobody should be allowed to have either one ;-)

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13.  
    identicon
    Allen, Jan 15th, 2008 @ 9:21am

    Re: nukes vrs DRM

    [soap box]
    Lets put this in to perspective... I don't mind the guy next door playing with a DVD... However I do mind if he is playing around with a nuke...

    DRM does not work all it realy does is provide some entertainment value to the cracker who once cracks it uploads the DRM free media to the rest of the world...

    In reality all DRM is doing is keeping an honest man honest while making his life difficult when he wants to do something he is rightfully allowed to do by law [personal backups].

    I personally think DRM is costing the industry more in the long run because they have to spend money on R&D to make a futile attempt at staying a head of the crackers.

    The only way to make DRM work is to seal the film in a box and NEVER let anyone see it. That is a bit self defeating...

    I say DRM will not work.
    [/soap box]

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14.  
    identicon
    Hellsvilla, Jan 15th, 2008 @ 9:37am

    Re: Re: nukes vrs DRM

    In reality all DRM is doing is keeping an honest man honest while making his life difficult when he wants to do something he is rightfully allowed to do by law [personal backups].

    Quite the opposite. DRM makes a felon of an honest man in its attempt to get them to purchase the same media multiple times. Why let someone practice fair use when you can charge them twice for the convenience of not letting them practice fair use?

    If you hold down shift while inserting a copy protected audio cd into your computer (for the purpose of ripping mp3s to put on a perfectly legal ipod, you are committing a felony).

    The same thing goes for dvd's. And it only gets worse for the "next gen" of optical media, which will fail spectacularly due to its own drm.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15.  
    identicon
    matt, Jan 15th, 2008 @ 9:47am

    Re: Copy Rights

    do you have any idea how backwards it is to have to pay ASCAP to play a song in a bar? DJs are greatful that if they mix/remix songs its considered an original work and so they try to make as much original music as possible so that ASCAP can't try to extract it from their hides.

    Or do you not remember about ASCAP suing people for singing happy birthday/songs in bars/karaoke.

    I would not be willing to pay the ASCAP, or RIAA anything as every song available royalty and copyright free on the radio (whom doesn't pay to broadcast the songs) is free as in beer to listen and they don't deserve to be paid multiple times for those songs played in any format. Sorry, my money, not theirs.

    Additionally, do you understand what copyright is for? The basic premise is so that if you create something you are allowed for a short term to own that product. Then it is no longer yours. Renewal of copyright is the first flaw. It is not to protect your business model, but as an incentive to create more things. If you make a hit song, they are saying "good job! make 3 more hit songs" not "cut me a welfare check for the rest of my life + royalties".

    How do you protect your business model? Simple. Keep up with the market, make your products better than your competitors/give people a reason to want them, and continually come up with new things and new challenges.

    What really happens and where people screw up? When a stockholder's board can control your company and now you have to seek approval for every change, and you no longer make new things and are told to just "make more money".

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16.  
    identicon
    Vincent Clement, Jan 15th, 2008 @ 10:02am

    Re: Copy Rights

    Why do bands deserve to make money from someone who is going to make money off what they have done? If I buy a HP desktop computer and use it to make money does HP deserve a cut of that money?

    I'm sick and tired of this sense entitlement that permeates in the entertainment business. If two private parties negotiate some form of profit sharing, fine. But why does the government have to get involved?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17.  
    identicon
    xan, Jan 15th, 2008 @ 10:03am

    Re: Re:

    To expand on the point of "giving me the key", I believe if a DVD is encrypted with some type of key then doesn't every DVD player manufacturer need to know this key? I thought I remember reading that somewhere. Then they would have to give the key to all the manufacturers in the US, China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, etc. With all those people knowing this "secret" key, there is no way a crack wouldn't get out fast.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18.  
    icon
    Inquisition (profile), Jan 15th, 2008 @ 10:08am

    Out of hand

    I am in no way defending DRM or the companies that endorse it, but I think that BOTH sides of the debate have gone a bit too far.
    DRM side: "Let's sue everyone that breaks our digital locks, or copies (for whatever reason)our content and/or put them in jail"

    Anti-DRM side: I want to make copies of whatever I want and not pay for it, and I also want to be able to give 10000 of my close personal friends a copy."

    Both sides are obviously wrong, and should meet somewhere in the middle.

    Middle ground: "Make a copy for your own use (either back-up or transfer to mp3 player) but if you get caught sharing it in a way that circumvents proper reimbursement, you WILL be punished."

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 15th, 2008 @ 10:13am

    The same people who say that pigs don't fly and that the sun will rise (or more accurately, the sun will continue to exist and the Earth will continue to rotate) tomorrow

    Imagine that, at one point, those same people said the earth was the center of the universe.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20.  
    identicon
    Debunked, Jan 15th, 2008 @ 10:17am

    Way overstated

    Mike quote:

    "NBC Universal has positioned the US gov't to start enforcing their copyright -- which is a civil disagreement between two private parties that should be settled between those private parties.

    It is not the job of the US gov't to side with one party in a private civil dispute."

    Government can and does intervene in civil disputes.
    1. Wikipedia article on civil law indicates that an individual can file a civil case against an attorney general (obviously= government). In that case the government in defending itself would side with one party (the government) in defending itself
    2. Look at the government states combined cases against the cigarette makers making a legal product. Can you honestly tell me that the states or federal government didn't pick sides in that private civil matter?
    3. Often times private parties will petition the government (like NBC above) for help in private matters between groups. An example might be renters getting the state attorney general to take on the landlords who are holding rental deposits and releasing them too slowly.

    And by the by in Mike's quote above did you mean "petitioned" instead of "positioned"?

    The problem with your private parties theory is that in reality all of the downloaders are a group and really not a private party in the standard legal thinking and this does lend some credence to petitioning the government for help in enforcing the laws on the books.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21.  
    icon
    Mike (profile), Jan 15th, 2008 @ 10:46am

    Re: Way overstated

    Government can and does intervene in civil disputes.

    I didn't mean to imply otherwise, and I apologize if that was read into my statement. However, I do find it problematic that the gov't should be siding with one business model over another. You don't?

    Look at the government states combined cases against the cigarette makers making a legal product. Can you honestly tell me that the states or federal government didn't pick sides in that private civil matter?

    That's not a private dispute, that's a public safety issue.

    And by the by in Mike's quote above did you mean "petitioned" instead of "positioned"?

    Yes, I did.


    The problem with your private parties theory is that in reality all of the downloaders are a group and really not a private party in the standard legal thinking and this does lend some credence to petitioning the government for help in enforcing the laws on the books.


    But that's not what they're doing. They're asking the gov't to change the laws to allow the FBI to act as Hollywood's private enforcement agency. That's quite a bit different than what you claim.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22.  
    identicon
    4-80-sicks, Jan 15th, 2008 @ 11:28am

    Re: Way overstated

    1. Of course the government has to defend itself. ???
    2. Interesting, but this is a case of the government acting on behalf of the people. Kind of what they're supposed to do. The government should not act in the interest of corporations.
    3. Again, government for the people. Acting in the interest of renters against unscrupulous landlords is quite different from acting in the interest of a corporation against possibly unscrupulous consumers, especially without sufficient evidence in many cases. To make an analogy, if you don't pay your utility bill, the utility company charges additional fees and reports you to credit agencies, rather than demanding that the government enforce debt collection.

    "Debunked"

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23.  
    identicon
    Shun, Jan 15th, 2008 @ 12:02pm

    Getting back on point

    I think that Cotton and Wu are largely talking past each other, at this point. Maybe they're staking out territory. Maybe they're just not listening to what the other has to say.

    I think both individuals have something important to say.

    Cotton: there is no reason to believe that some day, perfect DRM could be achieved.

    I agree, but would we want to live in that world? It's like promising to make the trains run on time. Yes, but at what cost? I'm waiting for the other shoe to drop. I bet Cotton wants to close the analogue hole, somehow. Perhaps with perfect digital images/sounds being beamed directly into our brains.

    Wu: any business model that depends on locks is doomed to failure.

    I don't agree, completely. Banks, stores, libraries, all depend on locks, but they are used in ways that are different from locks used in digital media. They really can't be compared. In the real world, you cannot copy a dollar from a bank, then go on and make millions of perfectly identical copies. Analogies like this really serve no one. We need to talk about rights, historical precedents, and frameworks for how we deal with this situation.

    What NBC and major media companies are trying to do is frightening. They are attempting to make copyright infringement a criminal act. If the Federal Government steps in, we won't need DRM because the U.S. will just treat everyone like a criminal, and you'll be too afraid to hum to yourself on the train, much less do something as foolish as use your home internet account to download a song.

    I agree that artists need to be compensated, but the current regime of huge media corporation promoting a few artists does not accomplish this. We are still in "star" mode, not "myspace band" or "youtube star" mode. There is a huge difference. When independent artists start giving the finger to the RIAA, that's when things will turn around. As long as you're willing to meet the devil at the crossroads...oh well, at least you'll live as long as Keith Richards.

    Change is already happening. If we stifle it here, in America, that's no guarantee that other countries will follow. Antigua has a free pass until U.S. gambling laws are modernized. Look to small countries for innovation. One thing we can do here is build a movement to decriminalize filesharing. Yeah, I know it's a longshot, but the real crime here is the sense of entitlement that the studios feel in going after people with few resources and no means of fighting these lawsuits.

    At any rate, I think it's the twilight of the record companies. What comes next? That'll be an adventure, don't you think?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 15th, 2008 @ 12:07pm

    That's not a private dispute, that's a public safety issue.

    Public safety issue? The states sued to recover healthcare dollars spent, had nothing to do with safety. Banning tobacco would have been a safety issue.

    No one single individual has ever received a dime from the tobacco companies in court. Ever.

    In fact, the govt. made it even harder for a consumer to sue a tobacco company. The govt. had to ensure that the tobacco companies stay around to pay them their money. That doesn't sound like a safety issue to me.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25.  
    identicon
    Robert Smigel, Jan 15th, 2008 @ 12:28pm

    And in related news, the guys who wanted to kill the VCR have found a new home at NBC...

    In 1984, it was the landmark case, Sony vs. Universal, and I believe the corporate site for NBC today is NBCUni.com

    So anyone want to chime in and share some insight to runs the company?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sony_Corp._of_America_v._Universal_City_Studios,_Inc.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26.  
    identicon
    Chronno S. Trigger, Jan 15th, 2008 @ 1:34pm

    Re:

    So you're saying pigs do fly and the sun won't rise tomorrow?

    DRM is an inherently flawed concept not only for the many reasons listed here:

    The key has to be given with the reader or the media
    The analog hole
    DRM means Digital so it can be reverse engineered
    Only one copy needs to be cracked in only one way

    But for other reasons not covered so far:

    The user can't use the file the way they want
    The user is treated like a criminal.
    The user is locked into one peace of hardware.

    The Human element seems to be the peace missing from far to many arguments. Once people get wise to what DRM really means, no one will want it.

    I'm sure there are a few other reasons I'm missing.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27.  
    identicon
    chris451td, Jan 28th, 2008 @ 5:14pm

    DRM experiences - digital rights mismanagement.

    Yeah DRM, well on my PC I figured out the zone bit would get reset and then the only way dvds would play is if I power off the drive. Yeah DRM I figured out the Cyberdvd software would self-kill itself if you mixed up too many zone codes or went back and forth between regieon 1 and no set regeion. Had no install disk as it came on the PC, had to find an oem disk somewhere else and reinstall it. Yeah, figured out the video wasnt playing clean because macrovision was enabled, had to rip it to play it without that supposedly harmless distortion, because its not very compatable with digital display chipsets.
    DRM digital rights mismanagement, or the reason why I dont buy from the RIAA and the MPAA I just record the hell out of movie and tv channels, not to sell trade copy just so I can watch it when I want to or skip the commercials.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Save me a cookie
  • Note: A CRLF will be replaced by a break tag (<br>), all other allowable HTML will remain intact
  • Allowed HTML Tags: <b> <i> <a> <em> <br> <strong> <blockquote> <hr> <tt>
Follow Techdirt
A word from our sponsors...
Essential Reading
Techdirt Reading List
Techdirt Insider Chat
A word from our sponsors...
Recent Stories
A word from our sponsors...

Close

Email This