DRM Still Hasn’t Found Its Way

There are many different schools of thought on DRM. Publishers and content creators tend to fall on the more severe side of it. Many are proponents of digital locking and are fairly relentless in pursuit of compensation for any type of use. Some are much more similar in stance to the shareware community where they don’t want to stifle access but would like to be compensated for their property that others find useful. There are also those who support free and easy access to all content regardless of the creator.

I think content usefulness and proliferation are directly proportional – as one increases, so does the other. However, I also find quality and compensation are often inversely proportional – the cheaper the content, the lower the quality and therefore the value. From an internet perspective, I feel the need to define content whose rights are worth discussing. This will be contentious I’m sure but for the purposes of the discussion of rights management, I think it is appropriate to make a distinction. Chats and many posts or blogs, as well as many videos are consumed so quickly and the value so compressed that there is very little concern about the rights and corresponding compensation. This is both from the originator and consumer standpoint. The video of the nut cracking skateboard spill is usually posted in poor quality for free with no expectation of compensation and the gratification is simply the number of hits it gets. Similarly it is usually watched once and quickly and soon fades from consciousness.

Content requiring more substantial time, effort and investment deserves consideration with respect to rights and return on investment. There is a practical side to all of this though. Many bands have found that releasing their music for free on their website will generate more interest in a shorter period of time and reach more people that traditional channels for releasing music. There is a significant resistance to this because it has a negative impact on a large business segment that has developed a channel, which, when it was the only channel, generated controlled amounts of income but to possibly reduced markets and possibly rewarding too many people who had little to do with the creation of that content.

This causes one to question what role DRM has in the music industry. Is it actually better for the artist to manage the process on their own or do the music industry people actually provide better value? If both provide some value, should the music industry be focusing more on areas where they actually provide the value – possibly organizing and planning tours and similar activities where an individual might have difficulty raising the capital to support such endeavours.

I don’t have the answers to efficiency and effectiveness of the different methods of content delivery but I’m pretty sure that the web as a channel is very accessible to individual artists and that the model of handling content should definitely change to utilize the value the web provides. When this happens – business realizes that  the cat is out of the bag and they need to rethink their value proposition – DRM will change for good and for the better. It really comes down to good business which is to offer a good value proposition. When this happens, content won’t need to be locked or protected nearly as tightly as today.

Certainly, it is in the best interest of consumers for the individuals and companies offering content to sell the rights to the content and not the media. If I purchased a VHS 20 years ago of the first Star Wars trilogy, I should be able to download that for free today. I have paid my royalties and should not have to do so again. Similarly, If I own the Led Zeppelin library on vinyl, I should be able to download and listen to it freely today. Instead of investing in restrictive technology they should be investing in proliferation technology. The adoption rate on a single lifetime right-to-use of content would be much higher then on specific media which will inevitably be obsolete. This is also much greener as it leaves it up to the individual to decide whether they ever even need media. They could just keep their content on whatever digital device the use and be assured they would have a legal right to it moving forward. Less packaging, less waste. Less industry but we certainly shouldn’t be propping up industries that are certainly on their way out anyway. This is a great idea for a business which, having written about it, I now own it and copyright it (unless I am late of course).

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