DRM: the story so far
June 20, 2004 11:49 AM   Subscribe

Cory Doctorow gives a talk at Microsoft Research about why DRM systems don't work and are bad for society, business and artists -- and what Microsoft should do about it.
posted by reklaw (42 comments total)

 
You can also read it as an annotated wiki, or plain text, or even listen to Jason Kottke read it.
posted by reklaw at 11:54 AM on June 20, 2004


or as reformatted by our very own fearless leader.
posted by rhyax at 12:56 PM on June 20, 2004


*this is pretty good*
posted by Keyser Soze at 1:07 PM on June 20, 2004


I think this is absolutely the best thing written about DRM so far. Put simply, geeks like to tinker with things and when you make it against the law to do innocuous things like let your music play in other rooms or on other computers, something is wrong. To turn every customer into a criminal can't be good for Microsoft in the long run.

My only point of contention with the whole thing is that he states due to overregulation by the industry, DVD players are at a standstill in terms of innovation. While that is largely true, there are a couple companies doing cool stuff with DVD players like KiSS and Gateway.
posted by mathowie at 1:43 PM on June 20, 2004


Such a good article for those of us who before only instinctively knew that DRM was bad, and can now know the reason why. Thanks for the awesome link.
posted by contessa at 1:46 PM on June 20, 2004


Yeah, thanks for that reklaw. It also contains, I think, a good summation of the real nature of copyright that's often overlooked;
Whenever a new technology has disrupted copyright, we've changed copyright. Copyright isn't an ethical proposition, it's a utlititarian one. There's nothing *moral* about paying a composer tuppence for the piano-roll rights, there's nothing *immoral* about not paying Hollywood for the right to videotape a movie off your TV. They're just the best way of balancing out so that people's physical property rights in their VCRs and phonographs are respected and so that creators get enough of a dangling carrot to go on making shows and music and books and paintings. [emphasis mine]
posted by Blue Stone at 2:31 PM on June 20, 2004


Cory is so smart it makes your hair hurt. I've been making everyone I know read this.
posted by GriffX at 3:23 PM on June 20, 2004


Cory Doctorow is an interesting and entertaining speaker and has the rare ability to convey fresh ideas rich with references and example without resorting to the least common denominator. He's comprehensible to the layman/bizguy and can fully geek out without the need for a translator. If you haven't already seen this at BoingBoing or EFF's DeepLinks, I suggest bookmarking them as they are both quite worthy of a daily look. Cory Doctorow reminds me of Harold with his purple crayon, actively creating and changing the world around himself. He makes me want to grab a crayon of my own.
posted by roboto at 3:39 PM on June 20, 2004


Side note.
posted by eyeballkid at 4:21 PM on June 20, 2004


I was lucky enough to hear Doctorow speak at a conference a couple of weeks ago, prior to his visit to the WIPO treaty negotiations. He spoke knowledgeably about many other subjects, as well as on intellectual property "rights".

n.b. I had to shave all my hair off it was hurting so much.
posted by cbrody at 4:26 PM on June 20, 2004


this is sorta like having george bush lecture an al qaeda cell on why terra isn't good.
posted by quonsar at 4:57 PM on June 20, 2004


Too bad he's the Self-Absorbed King of the Egoists.
posted by johnnydark at 5:19 PM on June 20, 2004


yeah, but what about Doctorow?
posted by quonsar at 5:36 PM on June 20, 2004


We have attendees among us. Tom said it was a remarkable event at the PNW thing Friday night. Anybody else make it?
posted by mwhybark at 5:49 PM on June 20, 2004


RE: sidenote
posted by roboto at 5:56 PM on June 20, 2004


It's also worth noting that Doctorow puts his money where his mouth is: his novels, including the recent Eastern Standard Tribe, are available for free download (sans DRM) from his website.
posted by Zonker at 6:20 PM on June 20, 2004


So good.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 8:38 PM on June 20, 2004


Too bad he's the Self-Absorbed King of the Egoists.

Alas. His clog* has many interesting links, but have become increasingly shrill in their political leanings, and he has no probem advocating actual theft.

I'm amazed, too, that he manages to work both as a PR rep for Disney (kings of the copyright crackdown) and for the EFF.

* Clog: A "Cool link!" log entry site, absent the personal qualities or extended observations found on blogs, but filled with links, all prefaced by, "Ooh, cool!"
posted by Ayn Marx at 9:01 PM on June 20, 2004


Cory is an excellent critic of the broken music industry, and a chronicler of failed attempts to rationalize payment for intellectual property. But my hair is not hurting. There’s nothing new here. Cory offers analytical perspective on failed business models of the past, messages that resonate with audiences, poignant stories that demonstrate his assertions, and quotable summation statements. In short, he’s a good speaker.

Message to Microsoft: Build me a player that will play anything with no copyright restrictions, and I’ll buy it. Message to Ford: Build me a car that gets 1000 mpg, and I’ll buy that, too. Along with an instant diet pill and a hundred-year battery.

What he SEEMS to be saying, but won’t come right out and say, is that:
(1) since copy protection is defeatable, pretty much instantly, and
(2) since copy protection alienates consumers even when it does work,

…therefore, there should be no copy protection, and artists should just expect that their works will be freely copied and distributed.

Or to put it another way, “Trust me.”

Cory comes from the “people are basically good” school of thought. Record labels, and some artists, come from the “when there’s no risk and no extra effort, people will gladly steal from you” school of thought. And never the twain shall meet.

The DRM schemes are evolving to address many of the concerns expressed by Cory and others, with limited numbers of copies allowed, lower resolution MP3 already burned on the disk, and even self-destructive copies that have a defined shelf life. Maybe one of these will strike the right balance between ensuring that artists get compensated for their work and people aren’t unduly hampered in their ability to move, copy, reformat and enjoy music they have legitimately purchased. Maybe not, and the current hostilities continue and even escalate. I don’t know.

If unrestricted music is indeed Cory’s platform, as is not only implied from his anti-DRM comments in the speech but exemplified in his offerings of his own novels in a pay-if-you-feel-like-it format, then kudos to him for having the courage of his convictions. Even here, though, he’s a follower, not a leader. In the music industry, for example, check out the musings of Janis Ian, who has been offering her own MP3 songs on her web site for the past two years, and has the statistics to analyze it.

Good speech. Hair hurting? No.
posted by JParker at 9:16 PM on June 20, 2004


Ayn Marx - Clog: A "Cool link!" log entry site, absent the personal qualities or extended observations found on blogs

So then, that would be something that functions as a log of interesting things found on the web? A sort of "web log," if you will? Or maybe even a 'blog?
posted by NortonDC at 10:06 PM on June 20, 2004


Is anyone else bothered by his use of slang which he apparently makes up on the spot? I understand that he is an author and all, but I find it very pretentious to throw in terms like "info-roadkill" in situations which are not, say, games of Shadowrun.
posted by mmcg at 10:12 PM on June 20, 2004


NortonDC:
List of cool links sans commentary != journal of daily musings, links and comments.

Similarly, a To Do list is not a diary, although sometimes the lines are blurred.

They should have different names, but "clog" is not really what I would use.
posted by bashos_frog at 10:24 PM on June 20, 2004


bashos_frog, do you know the history of the word "weblog"? Are you familiar with the site (weblog, even) of the nut/bigot man that created it?
posted by NortonDC at 10:58 PM on June 20, 2004


I like that Doctorow guy.
posted by homunculus at 10:59 PM on June 20, 2004


I work inside a media company and am involved in some of the DRM efforts.

There are a few things that are clear:

1) All DRM systems will be broken
2) One break is all that is needed to 'release' content into the P2P networks

The trouble is, it's not so simple to make DRM policy.

The real problem that exists are the professional counterfieters found on the streets of major cities and on the web at places like movieontheway.com.

Media companies want laws to allow them to go after the counterfeiters. Currently, if the person has less than a thousand fake DVDs, the police won't do anything.

To get laws changed, the politicians want the media companies to show they are fighting the problem at every level. This means watermarking and DRM.

Making an analogy, it's as if to get a law against car theft, congress is demanding the every car has automatic locks, a built-in club, and video surveiliance of the car whereever it's parked.

If the media companies didn't do DRM, there is no way congress would support them stopping the people that are making a living stealing content.

Consumers get caught in the middle.

The issue is not simple, but the blame lies with the counterfeiters, not the media companies.
posted by Argyle at 11:11 PM on June 20, 2004


The problem with what you're saying, Argyle, is that media companies don't need any more goddamned laws from Congress. They need the executive branch to perform its Constitutionally assigned role and punish the guys breaking the laws that Congress already passed.

The real problem that exists are the professional counterfieters found on the streets of major cities and on the web at places like movieontheway.com.

Your "real problem" is already illegal, and if the law isn't being enforced the problem isn't the law, it's the enforcement, i.e. the executive branch, aka Bush.
posted by NortonDC at 11:53 PM on June 20, 2004


If the media companies didn't do DRM, there is no way congress would support them stopping the people that are making a living stealing content.
That's a specious argument for DRM. Congress makes the laws; it does not enforce them. And the laws exist today. Judging by the numbers of cases studied and cited by the EFF, there's plenty of enforcement going on.

Plus, I'm not sure the media companies get off as easy as Argyle would allow. Just as "One break is all that is needed to 'release' content into the P2P networks", so too one illegally copied and shared file is all that it takes in the eyes of those media companies to "justify" DRM.

Sure, counterfeiters are the most egregious offenders, but hardly the only ones. And if that were really the issue, would the RIAA be going after 12 year-old school girls? If the policy of the recording industry and any recording artists is that one illegal copy is one too many, then Cory's "trust me" approach has no chance of ever seeing the light of day. Except, perhaps through the efforts of artists who are willing to risk their music the way Janis Ian has done.

But here's one example of the hitch in that plan. Back in January (on another site) I linked a band that offered all their songs on their website, for free, pay if you like it. I wrote:
let me introduce you to Little Brother, a very funky hip-hop group out of North Carolina. They are building a fast following, in part due to a good understanding of the Internet and its community-building capabilities.
Man, those words sound hollow today. Now, five months later, that link goes to a search engine page. Instead of being a shining example of the sound economics of the "trust me" model, they have become ammunition for the pro-DRM brigade.

Until some bands are willing and able to stand up and say "we offered all our songs for free, and made more money than we ever could have through traditional channels", DRM is probably here to stay in one form(at) or another.

Moreover, there is a HUGE infrastructure of billion-dollar companies on both the recording industry and the composers, authors and publishers side that has a strong vested interest in keeping things pretty much the way they are. Even though their business model is cratering, it's still an $800 million per month business (in the US alone!), and anything that puts that kind of money at risk is going to treated with extreme caution.

It's just not as simple as Free=Good, DRM=Bad.
posted by JParker at 12:06 AM on June 21, 2004


Wilco offered Yankee Hotel Foxtrot free on their site when their record company dropped them. (But then, they're Wilco, and it was Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.)
posted by Tlogmer at 2:00 AM on June 21, 2004


The Doctorow is good. I like the Doctorow.

So then, that would be something that functions as a log of interesting things found on the web? A sort of "web log," if you will? Or maybe even a 'blog?

Actually, I'm warming to the idea of a "'klog" -- a log of things that make you go "Holy Fuck!"

Easier said than done, though, mebbe.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 2:19 AM on June 21, 2004


As far as boingboing meeting the "clog" definition, I disagree [reader since 2000], as each editor mostly writes their own blurb in their own style with link, and even more so, each has a flavor of linking styles of their own. There are a couple who are on my subconsciously-down-modded list, but I'm not crass enough to blurt. Also, you discount the steady feed of intarweb freshness that loyal readers are steady burying them under. Saddled with Clog©, [this is irony], while someone else calls out the audacity of his trying to play with language and maybe coin a new term makes me say, "Heh heh." Don't like a term, boycott it, but beware, someone will inevitably call out, "Shit, boycott Sal's Pizza!? You should boycott your barber, 'cause he FUHked up yo head!" Let me tell you friend, I HATE the non-word proactive, but no matter how much I lambasted those types who propagated this word into our popvocab, I failed at stamping out the word even in my own locale, and my vendetta even lowered my esteem to some lower life forms others.

Currently, if the person has less than a thousand fake DVDs, the police won't do anything. Right yo'self fool, the police have more important things to do for the people who pay their paychecks. They can barely keep up with real crime on their budget. Don't forget that your shareholders reach beyond those that actually hold paper. Tell your brethren to cut the fat, or be cut out of the game and be eaten by the market. The actual artists have traditionally been screwed because of the technical machinations of manufacture and distribution. Just because these are the traditional vectors of revenue doesn't justify outlawing progress to keep outmoded tech from the knife of red at taxpayer's expense. I say the market will outpace your gigantor lobby scrilla, or the terrorists have won.
posted by roboto at 3:36 AM on June 21, 2004


I HATE the non-word proactive, but no matter how much I lambasted those types who propagated this word into our popvocab, I failed at stamping out the word even in my own locale,

Words are used to convey meaning. Virtually anyone who hears that word understands what you are trying to say. Therefore, it is serving its purpose.

Also, m-w.com seems to define it quite clearly, with no side notations of it being slang, obscure, offensive, or obsolete.

It's not my favorite word either, and I cringe a little when people use it around me. But that is because it has become overused, trite, and cliched, not because it is a "non-word".
posted by Ynoxas at 5:43 AM on June 21, 2004


Too bad he's the Self-Absorbed King of the Egoists.

Hmm... I only know Cory Doctorow from reading his stuff -- but that includes his comments on other people's blogs, and any other kinds of public statements I run across. And while I will say he seems to be a bit of a self-promoter, he no more of one than, say, Bruce Sterling or Joi Ito. Which is to say, if you make your living by being somebody other people listen to -- well, you've gotta make them listen to you now and then.

And while I've seen him argue hard, he doesn't seem generally to hew to the take no prisoners line that is so commonplace on the net these days.

So, for a guy as doggamn popular as he's become (well, has been since the 'zine days), I think he does pretty good at keeping a civil tounge in a relatively human-sized head.

All that said, he's way too much of a techno-optimist for my taste, which is why I have to set BB aside from time to time...
posted by lodurr at 6:37 AM on June 21, 2004


Ayn Marx - Clog: A "Cool link!" log entry site, absent the personal qualities or extended observations found on blogs

So then, that would be something that functions as a log of interesting things found on the web? A sort of "web log," if you will? Or maybe even a 'blog?


I was being a bit facetious, but only just. Is Slashdot a blog? MeFi? Fark? Nowadays this all seems to depend on who you ask, but I gather, from recent press, that the term has now come to mean " a web containing links to other web pages." (According to the "bloggies" circle-jerk award site, 'a "weblog" is a page with dated entries.' Such as, I guess, groups.google.com, nytimes.com, or weather.com. Oh, and this page)

I've understood blogs as having a personal narative or diary quaility; what Tim Bray described as a one-way conversation with the world. I don't find that at /. or Fark or boingboing or MeFi, no matter how many links and dates there may be.
posted by Ayn Marx at 7:14 AM on June 21, 2004


While we're piling on BoingBoing I feel like I should point out bOINGbOING LITE, BoingBoing with entries containing "Disney", "was nominated", "former guestblogger" and "NPR" hidden. Background info is at Dialed In and it was inspired by this Glassdog post.
posted by revgeorge at 7:52 AM on June 21, 2004


Wilco offered Yankee Hotel Foxtrot free on their site when their record company dropped them. (But then, they're Wilco, and it was Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.)
Well, good case in point. Yankee Hotel Foxtrot was streamed off their website (not offered as MP3's or WMAs) over six months before the commercial release date. Fast forward to 2004...... A Ghost is Born, Wilco's newest album, is due to be released tomorrow. Where's the streaming music on the Wilco site?

(Of course, back in the days o YHF, they didn't have a record label, no Big Brother looking over their shoulder. Now they are part of the nonesuch family.

Apparently, offering the music for free, even in non-downloadable format like streaming, didn't do much for Wilco. Or it scares nonesuch too much. Or something.
posted by JParker at 8:33 AM on June 21, 2004


Johnnydark says:

"Too bad he's the Self-Absorbed King of the Egoists."

Hmmmm, not in my experience with him. I've personally found him to be engaging, friendly and willing to help people. So, let's note the "S-AKoE" title with a "YMMV."

Having noted that, I don't agree with the proposition there is no ethical or moral component to copyright; it is indeed largely pragmatic in its design, but ultimately work covered by copyright is like any other work exchange: It should be reasonably compensated, and that does require a moral judgement by individuals and by the larger society.

It also goes the other way -- eventually copyright holders have an ethical responsibility to their larger society to offer up their work to the public domain, and too many of them don't wanna do that; this is used by some as justification for work theft. To this end, current copyright law and implementation is reasonably solid in the middle but a bit rancid on either end.
posted by jscalzi at 9:55 AM on June 21, 2004


I mailed Cory a (very slightly snarky) note pointing out an historical error in his initial version of this essay, he politely asked me for a correction, I sent him one, and he accepted my correction enthusiastically and fixed his error immediately; few writers I've edited have shown less ego.
posted by nicwolff at 10:40 AM on June 21, 2004


Is Slashdot a blog? MeFi? Fark?

Yes, yes and yes.

Nowadays this all seems to depend on who you ask, but I gather, from recent press, that the term has now come to mean " a web containing links to other web pages."

That definition is incomplete. It not just content that defines a blog, but also structure, particularly the placement of the most recently dated entry at the top with older entries cascading down below.

Slashdot, MeFi and Fark all clearly qualify. Something that's close enough to qualify, in my judgement, is 9622.net. Something that's very close but does not qualify, in my judgement, is Penny Arcade. 9622 qualifies because it's a tweak based on an the other accepted writing flow of the language it's written in. Penny Arcade is not a blog because new entries appear at the bottom, which is counter to the accepted vertical reading flow of its language, top to bottom.

(According to the "bloggies" circle-jerk award site, 'a "weblog" is a page with dated entries.' Such as, I guess, groups.google.com, nytimes.com, or weather.com. Oh, and this page)

Each of those sites are disqualified based on structure, though there is a blog built from a feed of every NYT story.

Isolating the distinction: wherever the reader starts reading, based on the flow of the language used, is where the reader finds the newest entry.

Slashdot, MeFi, Fark and 9622.net all qualify.

Groups.google.com, NYTimes.com, and Penny Arcade fail to qualify.

And, regarding www.metafilter.com: "MetaFilter: weblog as conversation" and "community 'blog." The front page most certainly is a blog, but this thread page is not.
posted by NortonDC at 12:22 PM on June 21, 2004


JParker: The new album from Wilco was offered as a stream from their site. As posted here.

Since the actual release date is tomorrow, perhaps they took it down just for kicks, and to, uhm, maybe sell a few albums too.
posted by attackthetaxi at 1:48 PM on June 21, 2004


Good catch, attackthetaxi, I missed that. So...... if offering your music for free with no DRM protection is the answer, why did Wilco take it down? Why was it only offered on a streaming basis? Why not post high resolution MP3s? (The closest format to meet Cory's stated desire for the music to play anywhere.)

Not that I'm slamming Wilco. I ain't. Just pointing out that bands like Wilco aren't ready for Cory's 'Trust Me" paradigm. They're still in "Pay Me" mode. In their shoes, I would be too.

I don't understand the sturm und drang over DRM when there are clearly sufficient numbers of people who will behave unethically in a "Trust Me" environment to ruin it for everybody. What is a better solution? Cory's proposal to MSFT can be summarized as "Do it anyway; you have more money than God and can outlast anybody in a legal battle." This is not only naive, but it will not get the support from the various constituencies involved, such as the recording artists.

Lest we all forget, they are the ones making the music. I can put up with restrictive new DRM. I can handle another music format change. I can get over the RIAA suing 12 year old girls for illegally downloading music. I can even deal with higher prices. The ONE THING I can't deal with is if the musicians stop making music because there's no money in it.
posted by JParker at 7:44 AM on June 22, 2004


The ONE THING I can't deal with is if the musicians stop making music because there's no money in it.

Yeah, because as we all know there was no music before the RIAA.

Not trying to be snarky, but there are legions of people who would record good music (given the opportunity) if they could make $35k a year, making $35m a year is not necessary to be a good musician. The monetary threshold that very, very good musicians require to become "professional" would be startlingly low.

I've often wondered if that would be a viable alternative for a brave record label. Sign 100 promising artists for $100k each instead of 1 shot-in-the-dark for $10m. Only a handful of the 100 have to do even reasonably well commercially to pay for the whole endeavor. This is assuming you pick people with real talent and not just "images" that you have to build from scratch day after day at absurd cost.

On a different point, there is already enough music recorded to last most people several lifetimes. If there were no new commercial music tomorrow, I'd still never catch up before I died.
posted by Ynoxas at 8:03 AM on June 22, 2004


Enough books have been written!
posted by inpHilltr8r at 12:32 PM on June 22, 2004


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