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
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Aug 2008 @ 3:27pm

    Re:

    ONE
    The context under which we are all discussing is the MPAA's desire to have DRM put on films they want to show on TV before they hit home video. And some people are against DRM while I understand and agree with the need for some DRM.

    Having said this, I think it is clear that when I say that a house, a car, a doll, a T-shirt, a DVD and a digital file of the movie are the same thing, I'm not talking about the obvious differences (as you point, I cannot live in a file) nor I am saying the REALLY are the same thing in EVERY respect.

    But regardless of that, you and I disagree. For me, it is irrelevant if in other contexts (nature, function, reason, etc) all things may be different. In this particular context (the producer's concern with the protection of his market), for me, there's no difference between them: they are all subjects of commerce, they all have a value and all must be protected from illegal or unauthorized use in some way. You may disagree. It's fine.

    TWO
    You're right. I did not say that. I thought my idea, although implicit, was clear enough. I'm sorry. But if you understood it, good. Now... about the defenses, again we disagree: I think DRM is not the most friendly thing, but today it is a sad necessity. For three main reasons: a) digital copying is too easy and cheap b) the natural evolution of the film industry (lead by consumers and competition) demands more control over distribution and c) the films in themselves must be protected from utilizations that will harm the author's rights (intellectual AND financial).

    You are mistaken if you believe the goal of DRM is to stop piracy. That's as unachievable as preventing all car crashes from causing deaths. But all automakers keep the goal and car security keeps evolving. The real objective of DRM is a) to make it so hard to do an unauthorized copy that only a few will try it (at a forbidding cost) and b) the end experience will be so compromised that few people will care to actually endure such unauthorized utilization.

    Now... yes, it has a price for the legitimate consumer. But I also believe such price is relatively low. I would love to be able to copy a CD to use in my car (where it will only last a few months until it's all scratched then i'll have to burn a new copy again)... but it is also true that some people also use that privilege to sell or give away copies of that CD - compromising the sales performance of the real legit CD.

    Now... if a CD or a file cannot be copied, it is true I'm losing my privilege. But the pirate is losing it too. I STILL have alternatives. The pirate does not. I can copy a CD (and soon a film too) into my Ipod and use it in my car. Some Bly-ray discs come with a digital copy for my computer. that's another option.

    I agree that with DRM, there will be some things I'll lose... like doing some funny re-editing on a STAR WARS film and placing it on YouTube. But I also believe the more DRM advances and evolves, the more rights we'll get in return. The film industry KNOWS that movies are not like software. There's a lot more to its enjoyment that just watch it. Although some people disagree with me, as a producer, I have nothing against YouTube (just as an example). The problem is that nobody has yet perfected DRM to a point where it will tell the difference (with accuracy) between an honest consumer and a pirate.

    But, as I said, we're still at the infancy of DRM. So it's not perfect and it clashes with many things we do... but it's here to stay and film producers everywhere need consumer's input on how to make it better.

    THREE
    Well... you walked away from The Hulk? OK... you got your money back? Fine! That only means that the theater manager believes you and feels that you should get your money back. That's great and that's between you and him. But that's not the common practice. Maybe you left in the middle of the film... and you would have a different response if you had waited until the end. Should everybody who hated GIGLI ask their money back, theater managers would not be able to say yes... because there's a huge line of people to get paid at the end of the week.

    FOUR
    Well... let me put it this way: no studio has ever spent more money in marketing than they do today. Go to IMDB, yahoo, or google or any of 2000 movie sites online today and you'll see a HUGE array of clues about the film's characteristics (in relation to your taste): 1, 2, 3 or more teasers, trailers, clips, interviews, screenshots galore, dedicated websites... well... if that does not enlighten you, then there must be something wrong with you. Did you had that 20 years ago? NEVER!

    And studios do that NOT to mislead you because they KNOW that as bad as no audience is the wrong audience. They do that so they make it clear to their target audience that the film is made for them.

    That's business.

    If that's what you are suggesting, I do NOT agree that you should be able to watch the film before deciding to pay for it. The risk of disappointment exists in equal share to both parties: producers and consumers. Prince Caspian cost 200 million to produce + 150 to market (=350 million) and so far made some disappointing 140 million JUST because Disney made the wrong decision of opening it squeezed between Iron Man and Indiana Jones. That's their mistake. Warner Bros thought Speed Racer, which I loved (120 million to produce + 80 to market) would be a smash for some strange reason. It's a huge flop. That's their mistake. Not yours. They pay the bill.

    You saw the poster of Boogeyman and thought it was a great horror film. That's your risk. The distributor did the best to show you the best things the film has to offer. You believed. You pay the bill.

    If after all the money spent on marketing trying to get teenagers into the theaters to watch American Pie or Superbad, a 70yo Mormon still thinks he wants to see the film... well... there's something wrong (and in that case, I'd be the first to urge the manager to give him his money back!!!)

    This is business. You don't use the car for a year and only THEN decide if you want it or not. The best they can do is to let you drive it for 30 minutes. Is that fair? But strange enough, most people do a lot of research before buying a car (it's expensive, hm?). Why not do the same for movies?

    What, for you, is a fair chance to evaluate a film?

    FIVE
    Let me quote you: "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."
    Well... films are not all alike. Some make lots of money on these outlets and others. Other films (with smaller audiences) can barely breathe. Parts of the success and failure comes from quality, distribution, some luck, good or bad marketing and (of course) an audience who pays.

    "Nor is it fact that movies must cost as much as they do to produce".
    Well... certain films cost what they cost because the audience demands a certain degree of some quality that is expensive to produce. A spectacle like Titanic cost $300 million because the audience expected such spectacle. And it cost JUST $300 million because every Dollar was well used. If not, it would have cost $600m (and probably would have never been greenlit).

    Movies cost what they cost because there's enough demand. Cheap films have to cost what they cost because... well... there's only such demand.

    SIX
    I disagree. I think it is offensive that someone has for free something that I do not. It is unfair that you have to pay for something while someone gets it through illegal or unethical means. It's okay to buy it cheaper at WalMart (I'd buy there too) or get a discount on a coupon. Or pay premium if you want it delivered at your door by a Playboy bunny. but these are all choices. Even if you get it for free as a freebie (and I do not), it's okay with me. But unauthorized copying of a disc for free (or whatever in the line) is offensive to those who paid a fair price. Apple agrees with me when lots of customers got angry knowing that a week after buying an iPod Touch (or was it the iPhone?) the price dropped $100 or more... and issued coupons with that amount of money to anyone who felt offended.

    Again I disagree: DRM is NOT made to protect the producer from having to put extra effort into making their product worth the price they want it listed at. That's a myth. The films that get most pirated are EXACTLY the ones everybody wants to see. Quality is not really a factor because it is very subjective. Ingmar Bergman's last film or an Antonioni film from the 60's is not something that you find easily (it does not mean they do not need protection as well) because the audience is so small pirates do not waste time with them like they do with Iron Man or The Dark Knight... so quality is a very subjective thing. Go to a street vendor and ask for a film by Manoel de Oliveira and look at his face.

    "With Pirates around, you AREN'T the only show, and DRM is a misguided attempt to fight the competition."
    So you think there's not enough competition? there is enough competition at the legal market (DRM and all) to make your hair raise. Look at my Prince Caspian example: a great film with a sure-fire audience... flopping just because of a date or release. If on top of that, you still want to put pirates, don't blame Disney for being a DRM hard liner.

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