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Macrovision’s Statement on DRM

February 17th, 2007

Steve Job’s polemic on DRM drew many responses, but they’re essentially all the same: full of hot air and horse manure. As a representative sample, here’s the one from Fred Amoroso, CEO & President of Macrovision, a company that specializes in the production of DRM schemes:

DRM is broader than just music
While your thoughts are seemingly directed solely to the music industry, the fact is that DRM also has a broad impact across many different forms of content and across many media devices. Therefore, the discussion should not be limited to just music.

He’s right. DRM should be removed from all media, not just music. DVD region encoding, for example, is in place for no other reason than to defeat the open marketplace and gouge customers in each region for as much as they can be shaken down for. And Jobs’ argument applies equally well to all DRM: it can be and regularly is broken, and so DRM, in every form, does nothing but hobble honest, paying customers so that the companies applying the DRM can cheat them. The entire argument that DRM has anything at all to do with piracy is bunk–it is clearly and simply about controlling media after a customer has bought it so that the paying customer must pay the highest price possible, and pay that price again and again for the same media.

DRM increases not decreases consumer value
I believe that most piracy occurs because the technology available today has not yet been widely deployed to make DRM-protected legitimate content as easily accessible and convenient as unprotected illegitimate content is to consumers. The solution is to accelerate the deployment of convenient DRM-protected distribution channels—not to abandon them.

This is just one of the many places in this argument where Macrovision’s bias as a DRM-producing company shows through. The point Jobs made, the point which is absolutely and glaringly true and real, is that DRM will never work. So long as there is a clear picture and clear sound output at one end, pirates will always find a way around whatever DRM scheme is thrown at them. Macrovision just wants to get the perpetual contracts to make yet another DRM scheme when each successive one is defeated.

Without a reasonable, consistent and transparent DRM we will only delay consumers in receiving premium content in the home, in the way they want it.

There’s a bald-faced lie if there ever was one. The way customers want it is without DRM. What Amoroso is saying here is supposedly that DRM can allow a customer to choose between delivery systems and viewing devices. What he really means is that without DRM, a customer would actually be able to view media without restrictions–i.e., you buy it, you own it–and that’s the last thing Macrovision or the media producers want. They want to charge the customer for the same media again and again and again, as many times as they can. Pay once for viewing over cable, again for renting, again for buying to watch on TV, again for buying to watch on your iPod, and so forth and so on.

Abandoning DRM now will unnecessarily doom all consumers to a “one size fits all” situation that will increase costs for many of them.

Yeah, customers would really hate owning something outright after paying for it, without restrictions about how how and where and how often they can play it. That would suck. What Amoroso is probably talking about, however, is the idea that without DRM, one high price would have to be paid instead of many small prices. Which, of course, is BS. It all tracks back to the idea that somehow media can’t be made available without DRM–that if even one version is free and clear, it will ruin all other sales. But since most media is sold without DRM, and all DRM is breakable, and yet the media producers are still making many, many billions in a lucrative business, that’s clearly bull.

Besides which, it does not mean that DRM must be universally applied. Want to DRM a rental movie which is only intended to play 2 or 3 times? Fine. If I rent it, then I don’t own it, so DRM away; I don’t expect rental material to be permanent, or else I would wonder why NetFlix wanted their DVD back. You think that DRM is necessary for the subscription music services, where people pay for access and not ownership? Again, fine–if ownership stays in your hands, you may DRM till the cows come home. But if I pay to own the media, then keep your grubby little DRM paws off of it, thank you very much. I just paid your highest price, the “one size fits all,” and now it’s mine.

In fact, Amoroso’s statement itself suggests that the highest price to be paid deserves no DRM. The “one price fits all” he mentioned must be the highest possible price, and that price is for outright ownership–and Amoroso said plainly that such a price would be tied to “abandoning DRM.” Thanks, Fred! You just made Steve Jobs’ case for him.

DRM will increase electronic distribution

… Quite simply, if the owners of high-value video entertainment are asked to enter, or stay in a digital world that is free of DRM, without protection for their content, then there will be no reason for them to enter, or to stay if they’ve already entered. The risk will be too great.

You mean like every single movie and TV show now made, which are all transferred eagerly to DVDs which have either no DRM, or DRM that is so easy to break that there is no practical difference? What horse crap. All music and all video is already in a DRM-free world, in that every single piece of media can be separated from DRM easily and effortlessly by pirates, which is supposed to be the whole purpose of DRM, right? And yet all these media producers just can’t wait to release their material because of the immense profits waiting for them despite the “devastating” effect of piracy (which, of course, is little or no effect at all).

In short, adding DRM will not increase the release of media at all, for the simple reason that all media which can be released, is being released already. You can’t increase the amount being released when everything is being released. And with DVD sales now exceeding box office revenues, the suggestion that movie studios would pull out of the DVD market if DRM were not available is so ludicrous as to be laughable.

DRM needs to be interoperable and open

No need to go over this–the paragraph is simply a swipe at Steve Jobs, daring him to license FairPlay, with the insinuation that he’s the one ruining things by running a monopoly.

The rest of the statement is more PR gobbledygook, essentially saying that a reliable and pirate-proof DRM can be achieved (wrong), and the good people at Macrovision are just the people to do it. Blah blah blah.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: DRM has no relation to piracy, zero. It’s about shaking down paying customers for more. It’s like the guy who ties a string around a quarter so that after the vending machine accepts it, he can yank it back out; the content producers want to use DRM as the string around the media they “sell” to you, so that after you pay them for it, they can still yank it back and keep charging you for it.

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  1. February 18th, 2007 at 08:25 | #1

    But if I pay to own the media…

    I rather strongly suspect that music company executives, although they don’t actually say so at this point, would very much like to move over to the licensing model used by software vendors, so that when you pay for the product, you don’t actually own it, you’ve simply licensed it under whatever terms appear in the license.

    In their efforts to protect their copyrighted content with these DRM schemes, however, music companies are completely ignoring the parts of copyright law that they do not like, such as the first sale doctrine:

    Webopedia: http://www.webopedia.com/TERM/F/first_sale_doctrine.html

    Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_sale_doctrine

    Obviously I am not free to resell or lend DRM-encumbered music. In fact, depending on the circumstances, I may not even be able to transfer it between devices that I own!

    I’m not an expert on copyright law, but I would imagine that the only way for music companies to get around the first sale doctrine would be to license the music rather than simply selling it, because selling something confers rights upon the buyer that licensing may not.

    I would very much like to see the music companies challenged in court on the grounds that their DRM technology unilaterally obviates consumers’ rights under the first sale doctrine, but presumably there is some reason why this hasn’t already happened. I wish I knew what it was!

  2. Luis
    February 18th, 2007 at 12:21 | #2

    Thanks, Sako–I had not heard specifically of the first sale doctrine before.

    It certainly does seem that the content producers are trying to dive into a loophole provided by licensing as a way of doing an end-run around the first sale doctrine; as you point out, licencing seems to be in violation of that, at least to some extent. Traditional licensing only refers to how many copies may be made or which machines software can be installed on; I don’t think that it gets into resale.

    Thinking about it, however, it seems that DRM already violates the FSD–for example, if I buy music from iTunes, I can’t sell it on to my friend directly. Yes, I could “authorize” his machine, but it requires me to enter my iTunes Store password on his machine, which would then allow him to buy stuff with my account, and of course I don’t want to do that. If I break the DRM, then I can sell it, but only by violating the DRM license. (I have heard that you can strip the FairPlay DRM rather easily, in fact–just burn the music to a CD, then rip it back using the same aac codec, and the DRM is gone; haven’t tried it yet, but I should.)

    Considering Congress’ willingness to rubber-stamp just about any DRM craptacularness the RIAA and MPAA come up with (witness the infinite extensions of copyrights), I would not be surprised if we were to see the definition of ownership change dramatically in coming years, so that more and more we rent, not own, property. Serfdom, here we come!

  3. February 18th, 2007 at 16:13 | #3

    “(I have heard that you can strip the FairPlay DRM rather easily, in fact–just burn the music to a CD, then rip it back using the same aac codec, and the DRM is gone; haven’t tried it yet, but I should.)”

    It works. Silly isn’t it?

  4. February 19th, 2007 at 05:21 | #4

    Thinking about it, however, it seems that DRM already violates the FSD…

    There’s really no question about it.

    Now, I am sympathetic to the dilemma faced by the music labels with respect to the fact that it is much, much easier to make copies of digital products than physical ones, and that this makes it possible to share digital content on a scale that just isn’t practical with physical media, but still, the way to work around that is not to simply “manage” away consumers’ rights.

    First of all, it is not the music industry’s place to define our rights. That’s the role of governments, and one that I think our elected government needs to get more involved in.

    The problem there, of course, is that government seems less and less inclined to do anything that is not strictly in line with what corporations want, regardless of the consequences for non-corporations, and so we get ever closer to what you describe:

    I would not be surprised if we were to see the definition of ownership change dramatically in coming years, so that more and more we rent, not own, property. Serfdom, here we come!

    Some of my earliest blog posts run along exactly these lines. 😉

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