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 @ 12:33pm

    One: I can only respond to what you say. You had said "no difference," so I responded to "no difference." Even at that, I dispute your claim that they are the same in any real respect. They may both have value, but they have value for very different reasons, and they have very different natures.

    Two: You said no such thing, but I can understand now how that might have been what you were thinking. Still, I can only respond to what you say. Regardless, I still hold that the defenses the industry are taking against piracy are ill-thoughtout and non- or counter-productive. DRM doesn't stop piracy and it does irritate legitimate customers. DRM makes pirated products more valuable than legitimate copies. You don't win the race by making the other guy's stuff better.

    Three: I walked out of The Hulk and demanded my money back because it was a horrible film. (The first one; I liked Norton's.) I got cash. Not a free ticket, I got my money back. This isn't a unique experience for me nor for many other people I know. Now, you're right that you don't always get cash back, and it depends on the theatre, and definitely it's a different matter if the film is defective... But I still hold that the analogy to a restraunt holds and all my points stand. If you wait until after the movie ends to complain, that's the same as eating the meal and then demanding your money back, with similar difficulties.

    The airliner quip doesn't fit, though. A movie, and in many respects a meal out at a restraunt, has value because of the enjoyment of the experience. A plane trip has value because it moves you from point A to point B. You can complain about an unpleasant meal just as you could complain if your plane landed at point C rather than point B: the quality of the product is lacking in such a way as to diminish the VALUE of the product.

    Four: Your quote indicated that Warner was able to get money from people "who hated the film and would never go see it in theaters." Now you claim that if they went there it's because they wanted to see the movie. But surely you must concede that they had no way to know if they wanted to see the movie before they had paid. (Previews and trailers are very often misleading, look at anything M. Shyamalan has done.) So you're proud that you're taking money from people who don't like your product without giving them a fair chance to determine that.

    Five: Perhaps you have a point, I can't really say. Still, ticket sales, DVD sales, TV broadcasts are not the only way movies make money. Nor do those go away if DRM is not enforced. Nor is it fact that movies must cost as much as they do to produce. So if I may be lacking a bit of an insider's eye on the issue, I would propose that you're starting from faulty premises anyways.

    Six: It's no skin off my nose if someone enjoys something for free. If I paid for it then I felt it was worth the price, and finding it cheaper (even free) elsewhere doesn't bother me. It only bothers me if I felt it WASN'T worth the price I paid, and even then I'm mad at the producer, not other consumers. DRM is made to protect the producer from having to put extra effort into making their product worth the price they want it listed at. If you're the only show in town you can charge what you want. With Pirates around, you AREN'T the only show, and DRM is a misguided attempt to fight the competition.

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