Copy Protection Is A Crime?

from the not-exactly... dept

The always fascinating David Weinberger has written an article for Wired Magazine suggesting that digital rights management is a crime against society. For anyone who regularly reads Techdirt and my usual rants against DRM products, you may be surprised to find that I disagree with him. I do agree on the assertions within the article – that digital rights management leads to a rules-based system with no leeway, which ends up doing much more to harm creativity and innovation than enhance it. However, this suggests that our current system of knowing when to “look the other way” is the right way to do things. My argument (as it has always been) is that companies should be free to use digital rights management technology, if they want to. However, they need to realize that they are making a business mistake that, in the long term, will be costly. DRM products shrink your market, rather than expand it. It makes innovation slower, it harms consumers, and makes your products less valuable. It also opens up a wonderful opportunity for competitors to come along and give consumers what they want rather than meekly trying to hide behind DRM. The simple fact is that opening up products opens up opportunities. They may not be the most obvious opportunities of selling a product directly – but the overall opportunities are much bigger. Businesses need to understand the long term business impact of their decisions. Instead, they focus on the short-term implications. As such, telling them that their use of DRM is a crime against humanity is not going to persuade many. However, explaining the economics of digital goods to someone with long-term vision could make them realize that it is in their economic benefit not to deny the nature of digital goods, but to embrace them and benefit from them. What happens then, is those people start businesses that understand how to benefit from advancing the nature of digital goods, rather than hiding it, and help to cause the natural end to those with obsolete business models. The supporters of obsolete business models can protest all they want – they can run crying to Congress and they can use digital rights management all they want. In the end, they just upset their own customers even more, and make the opportunity even bigger (and easier) for others.

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Comments on “Copy Protection Is A Crime?”

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Newob says:

Wish it were true

But Mike, there are so many business models that are ultimately destructive that businesses do not abandon, because they will make money from it for the forseeable future. Companies continue to slash and burn rain forests even though we know the result will be continued global warming. Companies sell cancer-sticks to people even though they know that their product will produce more costs in health care in the long run than they make from their business. The IMF and World Bank grant loans to countries which will never be able to pay them back (and meanwhile forgive loans to select US allies), causing them to be in debt and paying interest on their debt for virtually forever. Credit card companies make billions off of people who are too poor to buy everything they want, but are willing to be in debt the rest of their lives for it. Heck, even Amway continues to rake in cash for some people, even though the business has been proven mathematically to cost more than it makes. If a company can make money doing something for the forseeable future, especially if it can take advantage of the Game Without End myth, they will keep doing it.

And people will fall for their schemes. No, people do not have to get credit cards, or join Amway, or accept World Bank loans, or buy cigarettes. But people are all too willing to get into Faustian bargains. As long as shady people with lots of money and power have the option to take advantage of people, they will. The same goes for DRM. They will make it invisible. They will forge corporate alliances which make it virtually impossible to produce a product with a computer chip that doesn’t have DRM. It doesn’t matter what the computer or digital media are capable of. It doesn’t even matter if some small companies make some money with products that are more convenient to use, without DRM. People, contrary to popular opinion, do not care about convenience. They do not care if something is easier to use as long as it is easier to understand. As long as the people who want DRM have a monopoly on the attention of consumers, with products that are popular and well-advertized, they will get what they want, even if it costs more. The rest of us computer geeks will have to get used to being in the minority.

thecaptain says:

Re: Wish it were true

This guy has it right Mike.

The problem is that 90% of the guys at the top are concerned only about ONE thing…how do *I* line *MY* pockets RIGHT NOW…let the next guy deal with the issues when the business or planet is in the crapper…I’ll be gone by then with my cash…

And they got up there mainly by being underhanded, sneaky, maybe not downright unethical, but certainly edging around there…choir boys don’t get to be CEOs…if they do, they didn’t remain choir boys and they didn’t get there by “hard work” alone.

I realize that’s an unfair generalization, but its accurate for enough cases that it makes the point moot. The few who ARE “nice guys” who mean well will not change enough to make things right. As long as these robber barons have free reign to rape our wallets with impunity (I mean lets face it…when one of these guys does something outright criminal that makes them billions, they MAYBE get slapped with a couple of millions in fines…to me, that means at that level, crime DOES pay..rather handsomely).

I don’t think those people want the status quo to change anytime soon…and I don’t think THEY are the ones who will change it.

And more bad news, since these people have the key to the governement in power (ie: cash, piles of cash), they pretty much will keep anyone ELSE from changing things.

Mike (profile) says:

Re: Re: Wish it were true

I’m not quite so pessimistic. I do agree that there are many greedy short-term thinkers, but I already see things like the music industry’s troubles and it seems obvious that it’s just a case of an industry not changing with the times. It’s almost guaranteed that someone else, outside of the industry, is going to realize the proper way to do things, and people will flock to them (just look at the early success of iTunes, which is just slightly better than what the music industry offers).

Eventually, kicking and screaming all the way, change happens. It might take a while and it might be painful, but it will happen.

Csharpener says:

Re: Re: Re: Wish it were true

Okay, let’s look at this objectively.
DRM is something about 90% of all consumers don’t want.
When asked if people would mind files being deleted from their computers by copyright holders, most people will equate it to spyware and get very paranoid.
Look how sketchy people and the media were about doubleclick and cookies a couple years ago.
DRM is a million times worse.
As was pointed out by the author of this article, this would require major changes in the OS and hardware.
But I would be willing to bet that it won’t be in all hardware. Nor will it be a requirement outside the Windows world.
Why is it that companys that have been using DRM for years are dropping it sighting legal liabilities and problems with the technology just as MS is beginning to embrace it?
Why is MS embracing it after it’s been such a MASSIVE failure?
I don’t know.
But it’s quite annoying.
Yet another sign that MS and the music industry have completely lost touch with their user base.
It’s more sad than dangerous.

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