From recent announcements and manoeuvrings, it would seem like there are two content creation industries: the one that sees new forms of distribution as an opportunity to promote and extend brand, and the other that feels every new use, every feature has to be charged for – including, if the MPAA gets its way on Capitol Hill, some that have been free to date.
For the moment I only want to consider what some call “high value” content. Without wishing to denigrate videoblog/RSS subscription content and the important opportunities it opens for non-mainstream content, the industry I’m talking about here is the network/movie company/record company hegemony who make the content that the mainstream enjoy, and pay to enjoy: television, movies and recorded music.
In a week where Apple announced one million sales of videos through the iTunes store in 10 days and NBC said they will be releasing the nightly news free; the MPAA have been working hard in Washington to re-introduce the Broadcast Flag legislation, defeated in May 2005, with super-enhancements. Blu-ray has gained support from more studios because their Digital Rights Management was more draconian than the competing HD DVD camp, and Sony are in trouble for their spyware-based CD DRM. See my recent blog article When a good format “wins” for all the wrong reasons. Another take on the MPAA resurrection of the Broadcast Flag is at the Electronic Freedom Foundation .
Clearly a good part of the mainstream content creation industry considers the only way to protect their content is to lock it up, but even the MPAA has no delusions that they will actually prevent large scale piracy. As quoted in the Cory Doctorow article at Boing Boing above, they believe it will “keep honest users honest” or more accurately, prevent honest users doing what they do now – watch, store, time-shift, space-shift or format shift – without permission and payment in the future. I believe that they are really so caught up in their own world viewpoint that they cannot see how that will drive people to pirated copies that have no restriction. They are surely realistic enough to figure that all DRM will be broken. If you can watch it or hear it piracy can happen.
DRM will only cause dissension and force people toward pirated copies of the content. Actions like Sony’s that open holes for worms and viruses to take over the computer, without warning people that it’s installing such problematic software will likely cause law suits that diminish the reputations of the companies. In short, there’s nothing to be gained by excessive locks and controls on content. It will, if nothing more, drive people further from existing sources, to new and developing alternatives. Every failed mainstream movie, opens an opportunity for an independent. Every locked down TV broadcast opens the way for episodic entertainment delivered direct to customers that can be directly charged with micropayments or supported by advertising.#
Apple have established a beachhead with $1.99 television episodes (similar to the cost-per-episode of the DVD release, although not as high quality*); NBC are using a “top and tail” advertisement to support the free nightly news videos. There are new payment alternatives coming that will, in turn, open new production alternatives. It’s time the MPAA, RIAA and their associates stop treating their customers as criminals, and embrace new technology – use some imagination (OK, that’s a stretch for Hollywood I know, at least based on recent movie releases) and find the opportunity. If they don’t others will, and the losers will be the entrenched industry. Who knows, that could be the best possible outcome.
# Further thoughts on these ideas are in my February post.
* The iPod is capable of higher resolution video so I suspect that the 320×240 size was chosen deliberately to not compete with DVD sales. At that quality it’s better than VHS but less than DVD quality for most content.
And finally, just to demonstrate the utter stupidity of the “DRM crowd” – Sony have not only done themselves huge PR damage with their rootkit virus-like protection that opens the computer to other viruses based on the protection installed by Sony, but it will do nothing to prevent piracy as there are 20 million or so Macs that can rip the files off those CDs without any protection: the rootkit protection only works on PCs!