Bad Ideas: Trying To Make Content More Like Physical Property

from the bangs-head-on-desk dept

Let's play a little hypothetical. Let's say that someone had discovered a way to automatically -- without any additional cost -- create all the food that the world's population needed, and automatically have it appear wherever and whenever needed. Think of it like the "replicator" device in Star Trek, where you can just walk up to it, and it'll create whatever food you want. The entire issue of hunger and worries about the "scarce resource" of food would go away. Who, in their right mind, would want to break such a machine, and force this newly abundant resource back to being scarce?

Yet, that seems to be exactly what's happening in the music world. A whole bunch of folks have sent in this positively ridiculous attempt by some guy named Paul Sweazey to get the IEEE to endorse a new standard to make content act more like physical property by allowing it to be "stolen." It's basically a weird DRM system that would allow the content to be fully "taken away" from the original holder. I've read the article a few times, and I have to be honest, that I don't quite get it. Those who get the content would still be able to share the actual content with whoever they wanted, however many times they wanted it -- but there's a separate "playkey" and someone can "take" that away, such that those who had it before can't use it after. But why would anyone "take" the playkey, other than to be a jackass?

But the bigger issue is why bother in the first place? Why purposely try to limit an abundant resource by making it scarce? Sweazey claims:
His answer is that such freely-copiable goods breaks the basic business model of human commerce by making goods nonrivalrous; it no longer has aspects of a private good, and this makes it difficult to sell.
But, this is wrong. It shows an out-of-date understanding of economics. While it may mean that you can't directly create a (paid) market in that private good, it opens up and enables many more markets. Going back to the food analogy: if you had many more people in the world who weren't hungry, and didn't have to spend all their money on food or food production, would that be good or bad for the economy? It seems rather obvious that it would be good, as money could be spent on higher level things that expand the economy.

Taking an abundant resource and actively working to make it act like a scarce resource makes no sense. It limits progress and the wider economy, and it's the last thing that a group like the IEEE should be supporting.

Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread


  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Sep 2009 @ 2:23pm

    Sign me up - first sale and right of repair

    I don't think a DRM system is a bad idea. Commenters above have pointed out that this would open up a secondary market for "used" digital goods. I have tons of crap on iTunes that I can't sell because I am a licensee not an owner. However, if the DRM system made this equivalent to a physical good, the first sale doctrine would apply.

    Also, there would probably be a right of repair. This is present in patent law now but not copyright. However, a copyrighted good treated as physical property would be imputed to include a right of access. Assuming the DMCA exceptions are enacted, this means I get to hack the DRM to allow me to play it on any device, without a registration server. Good news for all people who lost out by buying WalMart DRM or Plays For (Un)Sure Microsoft DRM. Instead of being SOL, you have a right to "repair" the DRM to keep it operating as originally intended.

Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Use markdown for basic formatting. HTML is no longer supported.
  Save me a cookie
Follow Techdirt
Techdirt Gear
Show Now: Takedown
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads

Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.