Terminally Incoherent

Utterly random, incoherent and disjointed rants and ramblings...

Saturday, August 20, 2005

DRM is Dangerous

Kuro5in has a very interesting article about DRM and TCPA. Think about this very carefully - if the DRM trend keeps up we will be locking up all the artwork, and popular culture that our generation will produce for the next few years. Essentially we bind this work to it's media, and make it non-transferable. Some of this DRM will have expiration dates, and render the content unusable after the license expires.

In other words, some works of art from our generation will exists only in limited edition batches, on easily damaged digital media prone to deterioration. Once the distribution company which controlled the DRM goes out of business all this artwork will be essentially doomed. CD's have long, but not infinite lifespan - and they do fail, and ware out. If the DRM makes it impossible to copy the content to a new disk, and the company cannot release new edition because it does not exist - the content will be lost within few hundred years.

In effect, the next 20-30 years can become the new dark age for the civilizations down the road. In fact, all they will know about us, will come from Open Source and Creative Commons communities. Think about this - what would happen if previous generations decided to use DRM? Here are some thoughts from the article:

We would have never seen many of Da Vinci's works if he had access to technology that imposed expiration dates on his writings. We know he used encryption in his work, so just allow yourself jump a step further.

If Picasso or Matisse had websites selling their art these days, what would happen if their server crashed, or their company went under. Would we only have lame copies of "Weeping Woman I" emblazoned with VISIT PABLOPICASSO.COM in big bold letters in the middle of the painting?

Mozart's works would only be available on special players that could unencrypt the special media he used, nevermind the fact that countless budding musicans would be left out of performing his works because the media conglomorate who owns his works wanted too much money from the school.

Remember Heroes of Might and Magic? The company that made it was called New World Computing, this company was absorbed by 3DO, then 3DO went bankrupt, and closed its doors. Now the company no longer exists. Just imagine if, in order to install Heroes of Might and Magic you needed to contact the developer first. You would have useless media on your hand. As it is now, HOMM only exists in bargain bins and warez circles.

Had popular artist Metallica released all their music in a propeitary copy protected format early on in their career, you better believe a good part of all the metal heads from the 80s would have never existed.


Makes you think, huh? Some of the most influential ideas and works of art we know about today, survived because they were open, and easily replicated. DRM is only good as a short term solution. Perhaps it helps music and movie distributors to maximize their profits, but it is a deathtrap for modern musicians and movie makers. Their works will be hopelessly lost and forgotten as soon as the company that distributed them goes under.

Future generations will hate us for doing this to them. But then again, perhaps they won't know anything about us. Perhaps they will see us as this wonderful society based on sharing, and free exchange of information - because the only digital information that survives to their times, is the open, easily replicable stuff from Open Source and Creative Commons realm?

Of course, this analysis assumes that RIAA and MPAA have their way, and somehow manage to eliminate piracy. Which I think is unlikely. People will keep exchanging copies as long as it is physically possible. So the whole DRM craziness might simply be a insignificant blip on the radar of history. Perhaps in few hundred years kids in school will be learning how movie and record industry went a little nutty in the early 2000's, and locked out their content but thanks to illegal file sharing, most of the prominent works were preserved.

But perhaps this is not how things are going to go. Reading this Register article gives me a warm fuzzy feeling. Pay-per-song systems are likely to be replaced by flat-fee systems, that let you download unrestricted music. As I mentioned before, DRM is not popular. The tighter the controls, the less attractive the product. It is often more profitable to charge a flat fee, than hope the pay-per-song/record services pay out.

So perhaps future is not so bad after all :)

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