On O'Reilly Radar > Tim O'Reilly says

From a consumer point of view, Apple's DRM is far worse, ultimately, since strong DRM just makes people give up on the product, or route around it, while Apple's is just comfortable enough for most people that they go along with it. Hence the effectiveness, to my mind, of Jeff's image. Which was "The key to protecting rights and getting paid is as simple as the difference in how dogs and cats are handled at the veterinarian. When trying to control a dog, you tighten your hold. When trying to control a cat, you loosen your hold. DRM, properly executed, is a cat. "

Cory is unsurprisingly all over this. Here's my comment.

DRM, properly executed, is a NoCat. There is no cat. As technical and business aware leaders we've really got to stop promoting the idea that there's an acceptable level of DRM. There really isn't. By praising Apple's DRM, we're promoting the idea that it's ok to sell customers a high priced, low quality, DRM-riddled product that only works on one vendor's platform. Is that what the customers were crying out for? The end result is that there isn't or won't be a single open music player that isn't tied to either FairPlay (sic) or PlaysForSure (even more sic). Is that really a good thing?

Thinking further about this. There's a persistent meme in the blogs that there is something called "Acceptable DRM". I'm very strongly against this. My take is that DRM is never about preventing piracy and always about capturing and controlling market share while ensuring customer lock in. But I do wonder if there's a parallel here with the real reason for copyright. Just about everyone agrees that Copyright as a limited term monopoly for the creator is a good thing and should encourage creators by ensuring an ability to get a reasonable return for their efforts. This balances the immediate payback to the creator with the longer term payback for the commons. Even the most ardent copyfighters seem to agree with this. The problem is that copyright terms are out of control and there's a persistent belief among creators and their managers that they should have an indefinite monopoly on their creation. The parallel with DRM is to argue that DRM gives innovators (like Apple) the ability to innovate and maintain a limited monopoly on their innovation and so make a reasonable return on their investment. But the strength of DRM and it's indefinite nature again distorts the balance with the good of the commons as a whole and specifically the good of the customers. Enshrining this monopoly in law with things like the DMCA legitimises this im-balance. In theory market forces should resolve this into a balance between the DRM owner and society. In practice, DRM re-inforces the existing market shape rather than allowing market forces to change it.

Thus we have a self perpetuating cycle where Apple can create and maintain a monopoly on both legal downloads and the player to use them to the long term detriment of the customer. But all this is moot. Apple couldn't have done this without agreement with the entertainment cartel. They wouldn't have given permission without DRM. The DRM gives Apple a weapon to build and maintain market share. Other vendors are then locked out of the market. The whole exercise is protected by the DMCA.

So no matter how much I say that buying a high priced, low quality, DRM-riddled product that only works on one vendor's platform is just plain stupid, very large numbers of people will still go ahead and do it because it's the only game in town.

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[ 20-Feb-06 1:32pm ] [ , ]