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, 8 Aug 2008 @ 6:02am

    Re: Re:

    One: While I'm not condoning breakingh existing laws, it's only "illegal" because we've said so. Don't try taking the moral high ground based on an arbitrary determination that just happens to land in your favor.

    Two: You keep doubling back on yourself. You say that DRM isn't about stopping piracy, but the first reason you give for this "sad necessity" is that digital copying is too cheap. What is piracy if not digital copying, and what digital copying are you afraid of that's not piracy? Do you expect Universal to try copying a Warner movie and selling it as their own?

    The problem is that DRM can't be perfected. It's technically impossible. Computers are my day job, so trust that I know something here. DRM (by any name) requires that the same person be allowed from accessing the content and prevented from accessing that content. If there's any legitimate use, all he has to do is make illegitimate use look legitimate. And once he does, once ANYONE does, once ONE PERSON does, you've lost the game. Because that's all it takes in the digital world: one freed copy becomes a billion freed copies before you even know it's there. DRM can't work because, like I said, all it does it make your product worse than illicit products. You are competing with the pirates. But you're doing it badly.

    Three: This is a non-productive line of discussion. I was proving your assertion wrong. I've done so. You offer not further useful avenues of discussion on this point.

    Four: You said that Warner got people who hated the movie to pay. That was your claim, and now you're arguing that if they saw it they must have liked it, and if they didn't like it it's their own fault, and it doesn't matter because they consumed the content and thus must pay. This is a business modle problem. Your modle will fail when the game changes, yes, but that doesn't mean there won't be a way to make money off of movies. You say elsewhere that you don't understand what Mike means when he talks about free being used to increase your profits. That lack of vision and unwillingness to understand is your main failing here.

    Five: Does it matter what the audience expects when they must pay sight-unseen? Spend enough to make good previews, then laugh all the way to the bank. What're they going to do, demand their money back?

    Sorry, that was petty and spiteful.

    Six: I've never been a fan of fair. You don't have to pay for anything, though not doing so often means going without it. If you do pay for something, it's because you feel the value matches (or exceeds) the price. Why should the fact that someone else got it elsewhere cheaper, or for free, change your estimation of that value? Nevermind that if one is truely a fan, one will want to support their idol, and encourage the same to produce more; again, why would that desire be muted because someone somewhere is getting a free ride? And why in the world does Wal-Mart not get you as upset as piracy? What makes a freebie less unfair than piracy? Apple's iPod fiasco certainly wasn't "unauthorized," and yet you claim that people were rightly upset because it was "unfair" to those who bought early?

    Quote: The films that get most pirated are EXACTLY the ones everybody wants to see.

    And by, "ones everyone wants to see," you of course mean, "the biggest hits at the box office." Doesn't that tell you something, that the biggest 'victims' of piracy are still making money hand over fist?

    Quote: Quality is not really a factor because it is very subjective.

    You're a fool if you think all quality in art is subjective.

    Quote: So you think there's not enough competition?

    No, that's not my point at all. You're completely missing it. Yes, Warner and Universal, Iron Man and Batman, these all competitors. But you're ignoring the fact that pirates are your competitors, too. What they're doing may be illicit, but you are competing with them, and you're doing it badly. DRM feeds pirates. If not for DRM, pirated products wouldn't have nearly the value they have. By putting on DRM, you reduce the value of your product, and that reduction it only felt by legitimate customers. You're only hurting the people who are giving you money. The ones who aren't paying you are getting a better product. You're completely ignoring this fact.

    Step back for a moment and think. The Internet is a dirty place, with lots of not-so-nice people waiting for you to download their malware so they can hijack your computer and steal your identity. Universal has a better reputation than that (generally). If Universal and The Internet were offering the same product, people would be more inclined to choose Universal because they're safe. If universal charges a reasonable price, SOME people would feel that saving that cost was worth the added risk of The Internet, but most people would still choose Universal because they're safe. If Universal makes it hard to use their product, more people will choose the risk of the Internet because now it's not only cheaper, it's also more useable -- more valuable. The more Universal tries to lock down what can and can't be done with their product (for fear that pirates will take it from them), the less valuable their product is and the more attractive the Pirates become. And DRM will never be perfect. I tell you this as a computer professional. And all it takes is ONE crack and the un-hindered product is avauilable online for anyone who wants it.

    As for Prince Caspian... not sure what "sure-fire" audience you're talking about (it's not as well known as The Lion the Witch and The Wardrobe, not as overtly-Christian in its themes), and it's hardly readily apparent that it was a "great movie" sight-unseen. Batman are Ironman are BIG names that are well known, and Bale's Batman had thrilled hordes of Batman fans already (helped along a bit by the dismal failures that had come before it; thanks, Clooney). There are many reasons Caspian failed, none of them being piracy. So I don't know what your point is.

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