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. icon
    PaulT (profile), 6 Aug 2008 @ 5:34pm

    Re: Remember the days of VHS & Beta?

    In the early 80s, the movie industry was petrified of the VCR. They were convinced that people would not bother going to the theater to watch a movie when they could have it at home. So, they not only refused to release major movies on video, they also tried to block VCRs from being made, by suing Sony.

    That lawsuit failed. Eventually, large numbers of pirated copies of new movies (such as E.T.) forced their hand. They dipped into releasing movies on video. You know what? It worked. People were happy to rent and buy movies on video *in addition to* seeing the movie at the theater. By the end of the 80s, movies that had either been flops (Twins) or moderate successes (Dirty Dancing) at the box office were making over $100m on video. In the DVD age, it's estimated that pretty much any movie will make a profit eventually, even if it was a massive flop.

    Sadly, these fools have neither learned from their own experiences nor from those of the RIAA members within the same corporations. DRM will not work - as noted above, it only affects honest, paying customers and not the pirates. It's like those horrendous anti-piracy ads you see on DVDs. Pirates will never see them, paying customers have to sit through this unskippable, condescending advert on a disk they paid good money for. Eventually, they may decide to simply never buy the movie.

    Ultimately, something will force the MPAA's hand, as has happened with the music industry. They'll experiment with different release structures and realise that there's separate markets for movies. The person going to the theater is not necessarily the same person who will be happy watching the movie on their TV. Some people are happy to watch movies on the big screen that they're already seen at home, because it's a totally different experience. They'll realise this and eventually come up with a business model that capitalises on this fact.

    On the other hand, they might manage to convince the government to allow this kind of idiocy, in which case those new business methods are ignored and the studios lose money not only to "pirates" but to people who give up because they can't get the damn TV to play the movie they want...

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