Dear MPAA: DRM Is Not A Requirement For Releasing Movies

from the nice-try,-but...-no. dept

We've written about the request from the MPAA to the FCC to grant a waiver that would allow the MPAA to use "selectable output control" (SOC) in order to block DVRs from recording their movies. As we noted, the movie studios basically would like to add in another movie release window, letting movies appear on television before they're released on DVD. Of course, there's absolutely nothing stopping them from doing so today. However, they claim that it's impossible for them to do so unless they get to implement DRM via SOC to stop people from recording these movies. The MPAA's own defense of this plan was exceptionally weak, but now some others are actually coming forward to defend the MPAA's position.

Ryan Radia, over at the Tech Liberation Front, has a long and thoughtful article where he tries to paint the MPAA's position as being pro-market and anti-regulation: "Consumers are willing to pay to watch new movies at home, and content producers are willing to transmit them, but government is standing in the way." It's a neat twist, but it's 100% wrong. The government is not standing in the way. If consumers are willing to pay, the movie industry can absolutely offer up the movies and let them pay.

Radia's claim is based on the entirely false premise that the MPAA needs this special kind of gov't approved DRM in order to release its movies. Radia plays a neat trick in spinning this the other way, claiming: "But content owners aren't required to ensure that all movies can be easily timeshifted and archived." Yes, indeed, nor are movie studies required to use DRM.

There is absolutely nothing stopping the movie industry from making use of this "new business model" other than its own unsubstantiated fear of non-DRM'd content. It's not a government regulation. It's not some weird FCC rule. It's the MPAA itself.

Mark Cuban gets it right when he points out what a huge mistake the MPAA is making in even bringing this issue up in the first place:
For all the money the RIAA wasted on trying to stop digital piracy, about all they accomplished was explaining to everyone exactly where and how to steal music. Please do not make the same mistake. Right now its a hassle to unitlize the analog hole to copy movies. Most people have no idea how to do it, particularly for HD delivered movies. Please do not go through a big process of teaching people exactly what the analog hole is in hopes of getting companies to prevent its use. All you are going to do is turn on the lightbulb for many who would otherwise not have a clue.

The theatrical exhibition industry just experienced a phenomenal several weeks with The Dark Knight setting record after record. People by the 10s of millions went to the theater, many multiple time to enjoy the unique experience of going to a movie. Could you please, please, please use the money you are going to spend fighting the unfightable and instead spend it on promoting the fun of going to the movies ? More people going to the movies is more people getting excited about movies. More people getting excited about movies means more people watching movies on TV, which is good for revenues, and more people buying DVDs or legal downloads of the movies. Again, good for revenues.
Piracy is not, and has never been, a real threat to the movie industry. The movie industry is doing incredibly well by releasing good movies that people want to see. Even if they're available for unauthorized download, movie watching is a social experience, and the better the industry makes that social experience, the better it will do. Wasting time demanding unnecessary DRM isn't necessary. It's not blocking any business model. Wasting money fighting for this "analog hole" to be patched won't stop piracy at all. If anything, it will attract more attention to that analog hole, while pissing off more viewers and making it that much harder to get movie fans to want to pay money to see movies. Even if the MPAA prevails, it won't put a dent into unauthorized file sharing. People will figure out how to get around the SOC protection, and once a single copy is out there, it's everywhere. Focusing on stopping file sharing is a lose-lose proposition.

So, please, movie industry, stop pretending you need DRM for your business models. You don't. You never have. And the more you pretend you do, the more trouble you're causing.

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  1. identicon
    Ryan Radia, 6 Aug 2008 @ 11:09am

    DRM may be futile, but government should not block it.

    Mike, I agree with your point that MPAA's war on piracy with escalating DRM is ultimately futile. But for whatever reason, content owners are uncomfortable releasing "high-value" content on analog outputs.

    The real question is, is banning DRM something we want government to be doing?

    Imagine if iTunes' FairPlay DRM were prohibited. Some major record labels would invariably stop selling their songs online, forcing consumers to go out and rip CDs the old-fashioned way. The labels could just release DRM-free tracks, but for whatever reason, some of them "just won't."

    Or what if the FCC had blocked AACS? Blu-Ray might never have been developed and we might still be watching plain old DVDs. If allowing DRM is necessary to give content owners the "comfort level" to develop new business models, it's beside the point to argue that they could simply release that content without copy protection.

    I'm not saying that content owners' fears are rational--in many cases, they're downright baseless--but if a company is willing to sell a product with DRM attached, and a consumer is willing to pay for that product, what justification is there for government to block that transaction?

    Government doesn't stifle DRM technology when implemented in movies, music, or video games. And--in spite of this-- consumers have hardly suffered (aside from anti-circumvention laws). The FCC has interpreted a 1996 statute as giving it the authority to block DRM in this case, creating an exception to government's usual role in DRM skirmishes.

    We shouldn't let our hatred for DRM blind us to the fact that government should not be in the business of deciding whether a DRM model should be allowed to exist. If you don't like DRM'd content, don't buy it. At the end of the day, consumer demand is what will shape the future of multimedia content. Take the recent emergence and growing ubiquity of DRM-free songs.

    Let the MPAA try its hand at selling us new movies that only work on HDCP-enabled outputs. Perhaps consumers won't bite, and MPAA's plan will crash and burn. Or maybe, just maybe, people will decide that avoiding the hassle and cost of the movie theater is worth dealing with some silly DRM requirements.

    Of course, this whole debate is mucked up by the horrible anti-circumvention clause of the DMCA. Repeal Section 1201 of the Copyright Act, and perhaps "Big Content" will finally give up on DRM for good. But maybe they'll keep trying, and that's their right.

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