Tuesday, May 08, 2007

DRM is a money-loser.

Yes, I have more to say on DRM. No, I haven't said everything.

Digital Rights Management (DRM) as we know it today - that is, highly interfering of legitimate uses - is severely damaging all media industries, from movies to music to games. Granted, it's not damaging the status quo, or they wouldn't do it; it does indeed prevent piracy. The problem is that the most profitable companies are often the ones that invest the most in DRM and their legal department, rather than on their actual product.

It's the same issue as putting all those ridiculous restrictions on satellite radio; any industry based on modern technology has come to hinge on how well the big companies can manipulate the federal government - full of aging people almost universally too backwards and too busy to fully understand the ramifications of something that never existed when they were learning how to govern.

Fortunately DRM hasn't done much to stop anyone except the most casual of harmless copiers (yourself included). Sadly, it is ONLY the most casual users who are thwarted, the major international commercial pirate rings often not even needing to circumvent the technology in order to make their copies (as is the case with, say, HD-DVD).

The Good News: They're losing money.
You read me right: The companies that seem to be gaining the most money for themselves are doing the most damage.
  • First and foremost, there's people like me, who will choose the lesser of all evils (the one with the least DRM) when making a purchase. Don't underestimate what can happen when you get on the average Joe's bad side. People start joining the list of safe houses for the underground railroad. Suddenly, even digg has to keep an eye on its PR.
  • Second, DRM costs a huge amount of time and money to design, and only a fraction as much to crack. The only thing that stops DRM from going out the window entirely is that many people don't feel like investing the least amount of time to find the cracks on the internet. The people who want to crack it do, the people who don't care enough don't.
  • The really juicy part?
When DRM is at full effectiveness, they lose money on it.

Mull that one over a second. It's a pretty hard connection to make, which is understandable since the bigwigs keep using it. The secret is long term vs. short term.

Short term, the companies spending money on DRM and legal action are maintaining high profit margins and protecting their interests. It's impossible to differentiate on a grand scale between creative-if-rare uses for content and illegal-and-reckless copying of content, so you attack it across the board, and it works.

Long term, people hear about your products less, more and more people turn into people like me (see point 1)... You'll even lose content providers: who would want to be a musician in this corporate environment? Maybe the homogeny in modern music has more causes than we give it credit for.

The biggest threat, though, is how it stagnates your entire industry. This is subverted by the fact that technological industries, if they grow at all, grow rapidly and with fortitude. DRM-using industries continue to grow, so why take a chance on DRM-free methods if you're making a healthy profit anyway? Nevermind that the industry would grow faster still.

Wonder how massive companies would use DRM if it hurts them overall? Me too. I have a few ideas, from management treating it like any other company rather than a digital-content-based company, and accountancy based on sound lessons from totally unrelated ways of doing business, like, oh, handing over an apple and getting money in return. Mainly though, I think it's just a network of confused causes and effects. A simplified example:

If you don't use DRM, the whole industry grows. "Everyone's making money hand over fist, but piracy is a big issue."

If you use DRM, the industry grows, albeit slowly, but you come out ahead of the competition. "It was a bad year, but on the plus side, DRM boosted revenue!"

DRM perverts our legal and governmental systems, stagnates the industry, sows disrespect for large corporations, and retards the cultural growth of mankind.

What can you do to stop it? It's easier than you think.
  • Do whatever you want with content you paid money for, so long as you're not just acting as a giant distribution hub for others to take an artist's work of heart and soul.
  • When sites doing things that should be legal submit to cease and desist orders, write them and complain, and/or organize new avenues to keep things going elsewhere.
  • When it comes up in conversation, make well-reasoned arguments against DRM to convince people one at a time.
  • Vote however and whenever you can to stop unjust legislation on media.
  • And the most important thing you can do: Don't buy it. Whenever convenient, stick to non-DRM or light-DRM products.
Believe it or not, every little bit does count. Big companies may look invincible, but they're not. A little bit here and there from everyone can bring a company to its knees.

This means we also have a responsibility to protect honest companies who are providing meaningful service. Don't "stick it to the man", he has a wife and kids to feed. Just show them as much as possible that you don't want anyone fed for using DRM. Also remember the artists; paying for their stuff is the biggest mark of approval you can make, and fosters superior growth in the art.

I leave you with the clever 60-second video which inspired this entire article: Adieu.