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[ EEPI-Discuss ] Memo From the Future: Why DRM is Doomed

------- Forwarded Message

Date: Tue, 30 Jan 2007 16:16:35 -0800
From: privacy@vortex.com
Subject: [ PRIVACY Forum ]  Memo From the Future: Why DRM is Doomed

                 Memo From the Future: Why DRM is Doomed

             ( https://lauren.vortex.com/archive/000209.html )

Greetings.  Historians looking back on the current battles over
Digital Rights Management (DRM) will probably chuckle heartily when
they review the bizarre and ultimately failed measures that were
promulgated in attempts to control entertainment content during our

But we can still hope for a bit of their sympathy as well, since so
many of the current DRM efforts are the work of very smart yet very
desperate people, who mostly know in their hearts that the game is
up, but still understandably wish to do everything they can to
protect their content, franchises, and livelihoods.

One need only look at the utterly convoluted and almost Kafkaesque
lengths that Microsoft's Vista and computer manufacturers are going
through to try prevent the leakage of bits from "premium" content
(e.g., hi-def versions of the "Gilligan's Island" box set), for us
to recognize what can only be characterized as last gasp efforts.

Still, in the end these efforts will fail, and different business
models will rise to take their places.  Where demand for illicit
copies exists, unencumbered bits will always find some way to escape
from their bondage -- often through copies made by insiders within
the production chains themselves, long before ostensibly "secure"
versions ever reach consumer hands.  The Internet guarantees that it
only takes a single such "clean" illicit leaked copy to permeate the
entire planet in short order, and for every watermarking or other
control scheme deployed, hacker-provided countermeasures will
quickly appear.

How this process will alter the entire ecosystem of creative talents
and media is obviously not clear, but the change itself is
inevitable.  We need not like or approve of this course of events --
how we feel about it won't change the equation.  We're all at the
mercy of fundamental technological truths, especially in this case.

Interestingly, we don't even know how much financial loss can
actually be attributed to this ongoing sea change, given the certain
rise of other business models.  We can't accurately determine how
many illicit copies of music and movies really represent true lost
sales.  Many people collect available audio and video materials just
to have them, but never would have bought them in the first place if
they couldn't get them for free.

Evidence suggests that many of these same persons will willingly pay
for legal copies when they perceive value-added content and fair
pricing -- the robust sales of budget-priced DVD film compilations
is a clear indicator of such potential.

A similar question permeated the world of phone phreaking decades
ago.  AT&T proclaimed millions in lost illicit phone calls revenue,
but how many of those calls would really have been made if they had
been charged? Few young phone phreaks really needed to hear the
"speaking clock" in Sydney.

This isn't the first time that technological advancement has sent
shivers through the body politic and its dominions.

The rise of the printing press initially was largely seen as a
doomsday technology by then current powers.  More recently,
containerization caused upheavals throughout the shipping industry.
Yet in so many of these cases, the affected entities found ways to
profit from these new circumstances, even though major changes in
their world views were typically necessary.

In the universe of the Internet and technology more generally, there
are some battles that may well be winnable, especially when
multidisciplinary in nature, but others that are doomed by the
intrinsic nature of technological development.  DRM appears to fall
squarely into the latter category.

There are many detailed technical aspects to this story of course.
These range from "fair use" arguments, to the apparent initial
cracking of the new HD/Blu-Ray copy protection system, to whether or
not DRM content "revocation" systems can actually be triggered
without massive consumer backlashes -- and everything in between.

None of these particulars matter much.  They will merely be transient
footnotes to the big DRM picture when viewed from years hence.  No
matter how you slice, dice, or litigate the issue, DRM is going to
be as dead as the dodo -- the "Edsel" of computing history.

The sooner we accept the fact that DRM will fail in the long run,
and we choose to move cooperatively beyond DRM's artificial
technological distortions to hardware, software, and the economy,
the brighter the outlook will be for everyone concerned.

Perhaps those future historians will have a surprise coming.

Lauren Weinstein
lauren@vortex.com or lauren@pfir.org
Tel: +1 (818) 225-2800
Co-Founder, PFIR
   - People For Internet Responsibility - https://www.pfir.org
Co-Founder, IOIC
   - International Open Internet Coalition - https://www.ioic.net
Founder, CIFIP
   - California Initiative For Internet Privacy - https://www.cifip.org
Founder, PRIVACY Forum - https://www.vortex.com
Member, ACM Committee on Computers and Public Policy
Lauren's Blog: https://lauren.vortex.com
DayThink: https://daythink.vortex.com
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