Tuesday, April 11, 2006

I Hate DRM: The Revolt of the Masses

Please note: This has been reposted, and moderation turned back on due to spam!

For a while now there has been rumblings of dissatisfaction with Digital Restrictions (officially its Rights) Management. The loudest objections seem to have come from the open source community, but that may be only becuase I am listeing closet there. However, this site, I Hate DRM f
inaly puts a point on it for the masses.

In general, people tend to grumble a lot about things they do not like and do not much of anything. This looks like it is going to be different. The masses, those of us who spend our hard earned dollars on items which are going to locked down by this draconian technology are finally making some audible, coherant noise about it.

This technology is not about copyright law, it is about restricting acess to things which you have already paid for. It will never hurt people who are willing to circumvent the usual safeguards (like making a CD a read only device), for they will only find a way around the new restrictions. It will hurt those of us who have always bought and paid for our media in the accepted ways.

Why does the music industry want this so badly? I believe that they would like to move to an "on demand" model, where content is made available as you ask for it, once listen, or view at a time, and on a pay per instance basis. Those of us who have already amassed large collections are already spitting venom over it. Now ordinary users are becoming upset.

Currently the recording industry puts all its energy in finding that one big hit which will sell millions. The truth is that most of the best CD's I own have never sold in that quantity and never will. The public's current dissatisfaction with the state of the industry comes from the frenetic attempt to produce hit after hit. In the attempt to produce hit after hit, the industry puts pressure on its herd of stars (yes, I am aware that I'm talking about them like cattle, because that's the way the industry sees them.

Each artist signed has contractual obligations to release a certain number of albums for the duration of their contract. While they live up to the obligation, there is no guarantee that the result is in anyway isnpired, nor is it guaranteed to produce the massive sales the industry expects of them. No one can guarantee that.

Increases in sales cannot be fueled in this mannner, the leaders in this industry who are largely accountants, lawyers, and holders of MBA's do not understand this. They think the sucess they want can be had if they find the right formuala. However, public fashion has never followed a predctable path. The audience theses business executives is playing to is stubborn, fickle and determined to make up their own minds. How do you predict the next fad in the 13 to 19 age category? The failure of the industry is partially in believing that they can accomplish this.

The music industry continues to chase and court the most fickle of its customers while ignoring what is its bread and butter. Catalogue sales are what makes the industry profitable, not top 40 or top 100 hits because they are largely sold at rock bottom prices. It is the cutomers who come to their music retailer on the hunt for something new, something they heard, or that hard to find album or collection they have been looking for. They leave the store with a bundle of CD's or DVD's for which they have paid full price. The industry continues to ignore these people.

It is these people, the collectors, the people looking for those hard to find items and those looking for something new who will eventually not stand for DRM. It was the clasical buyer who forced the majore recording labels into putting as much content on a CD as it would hold instead of making it a carbon copy of the original LP release.

Although all good tunes follow some sort of convention, and are made of known elemants and repeated cliches, some musicians have a knack of finding way of usting them which is unexpected. It is this element of surprise and the unexpected turn of phrase which makes us leave a broadway show whistleing the tunes from it. That cannot be required in a legal document. Unpredictability is likely the most persistant quality of inspiration and creativity. No contract can guarantee it.

After studying music for most of my life, I realise that history is littered with music that is completely and utterly forgettable. It is forgotten and should stay that way. Time filteres out what has some universal message for us.

The music industry has come to think that making moeny is a right, and further that they have the right to control it. However, as we all know, there is no basic human right to make money or profit, and no inherent right to control thought or ideas. This is precisely what DRM attempts to do.

Copyright is a privialage, not a right. Our society, we the people, grant certain people the protection of our courts and our laws in order that those who create these expressions can be compensated for their work. Unfortunately most of the music industry has lost sight of that. Eventually, at a point fixed in time, that protection is withdrawn and all those expressions of ideas return to the culture and society which gave birth to them. Music does not exist outside of this cultural continuum. And thus, it must eventually complete control must be relinquished. Copyright is a limited right. DRM attempts to cirumvent this principal.

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