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.

Filed Under: business models, drm, movies, mpaa, selectable output control, soc


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  1. identicon
    SomeGuy, 7 Aug 2008 @ 7:20am

    Re: All part of the same business model...

    Commenting on TechDirt isn't my day job, so I'll just make a few brief points.

    There is NO difference between a house ... or a computer file.

    Besides the obvious difference that you can't live in a computer file... Digital goods are infinite because giving it to someone doesn't diminish your own possession of it. If I give someone my car, I don't have a car. If I give someone an mp3, I still have my mp3 (until I decide to delete it). It costs approximately the same to make 1 billion mp3s as it does to make one, but making 1 billion sandwiches costs 1 billion times the resources. Do you begin to see where your argument fails?


    Should a ticket for THE DARK KNIGHT cost 10x the ticket for that French film nobody cares to see?

    Should it? Yeah, in a sense, it should. There's a lot more demand for it, after all. But if you raise the price, you'll stifle demand and turn people off. In a sense, a movie is a movie, and people will pay only so much before they decide it's not worth it. Theatres don't change their prices because they're better off charging a flat rate regardless off the content. It would be too much effort for too little gain otherwise.


    That's how it is: like in restaurants... you eat, you pay - regardless of you liked the food or not.

    Not true. If I order a steak and it's prepared wrong, I send it back. When I get the check, I only pay for one steak. If the meal is utterly horrible I speak to the manager, express my displeasure, and I leave; I don't care if I choked down half a baked potato, I'm not paying for that trash.


    DRM may not be the best thing on Earth. But it is the future.

    No it's not, precicely becauase it punishes paying customers. DRM doesn't hurt pirates; at best it slows them down. And you will always be competing with pirates -- the right move is not to make your product less useful than theirs. It's been shown that people will pay for good content even when it's available for free, but they WON'T pay if you make it too difficult for them. At best they won't consume your content at all; at worst you've created a new pirate.


    The industry KNOWS the difference between content circulation that generates revenue (which is good) AND content circulation that hurts sales.

    The industry THINKS they know, but they don't. They watch the first transaction and ignore all the ripple effects that come afterward. I know people who watched pirated Dark Knight and then went out to the theatres two or three times, with groups of friends, because it was that good. With movie prices being what they are, a lot of people are unwilling to buy sight-unseen.


    I agree with the MPAA about the need for DRM

    The is no need. There is a strong desire on their part, but it is not impossible to deliver content without DRM. They fear what might happen if they don't hold tight to their content, that's all. Even if I could record the Dark Knight to my DVR, there are LOTS of reasons to want the DVD, not the least being special features and additional commentary.

    And that's really all I have to say about that.

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