Digital Rights Management – Devilish Advocacy

Caught in the Act

Originally uploaded by D.James.

From ARS Technica today “In a nutshell: DRM’s sole purpose is to maximize revenues by minimizing your rights so that they can sell them back to you.”

Sounds simple enough right? That sentence’s elegant simplicity had me at nutshell. Evil capitalism vs. the unstoppable force of digital freedom. But I was scratching my receding hair line and marveling that I can fit a prairie vole’s entire DNA sequence on my key chain memory stick and wondered: How would the common assumption about digital freedom be interpreted when applied to cloning? If data wants to be free then what’s wrong with grabbing some hair from your roommate’s brush and surreptitiously overclocking your hair genes in a Rogaine branded centrifuge?

The ARS quote above could easily be applied to Blockbuster’s digital-freedom-robbing habit of making me return 1s and 0s in the form of DVDs through a squeaky aluminum hole in their wall. They’re missing a fundamental point about price and products. They’re assuming that we’re too stupid to demand a lower price in exchange for our freedom. If late fees aren’t DRM I don’t know what is. Are DVD rentals an unethical digital liberty abyss? No. So why the assumption that I will pay for a product suffocated by restrictions? If the product, including DRM, sucks, people will not buy it. Fair use isn’t something that needs to be legislated. If the movie industry pisses us off we’ll buy video games instead. There are so many alternatives today that they cannot simply crush our liberties with a campaign contribution any more.

It’s a bit ridiculous to assume that the industry doesn’t care about piracy when every movie ever made will fit on a keychain sized device in the near future. And piracy will eventually win because at some point living room walls will be smaller than TVs with DPI reaching a level of diminishing returns. And the keychains will just catch up. We’re at the point with 8Gig flash drives that you’ll be able to decrypt and carry a two hour DVD around for less than $50 by the end of this year.

Now the industry has historically been pretty stupid. The attempted outlaw of VCRs springs to mind. But digital is entirely different as anyone who has watched a 14th generation VHS dupe of some leaked celebrity home movie can tell you. With home theaters rivaling movie theaters in terms of sound and visual quality the opportunity to generate cash to pay for Beowulf render farms which in turn bring Ring Lords to life are dying a exponentially un-slow death. Flash memory sticks are going to kill DVD revenue in short order. Home theater systems will finish off the movie theater business. Even HD-DVD and Blue Ray are no match for these tiny USB terrors.

And so in 2010 we will see Lord of the Rings IIX rendered on a pair of aging E-Machines with a 10BaseT hub interconnect. Well maybe not that bad but movie budgets will plummet. I’m a huge fan of Clerks which was financed with a Visa if I’m not mistaken but I imagine it wouldn’t have sucked with color and a few explosions. Musicians can always sell concert tickets. I’m just not sure I’m ready for Rocky 12 on Broadway.

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