This will not be a short entry, and I’ll probably edit it several times post-posting because this entry covers subjects I’ve thought long and hard about, yet – once actually putting them in print – may well seem moronic. You’ve been warned.
The title of the post is “DRM and the Future of Your Data,” and it’s a misleading title. I will be talking about DRM, and I will be talking about the future of your (digital) data. The weird thing is, I will not necessarily be talking about both at the same time.
DRM is tied to the future of our data (and vise-versa), but I won’t be concentrating solely on this connection. This is more of a big-picture entry.
Again, you’ve been warned.
Before I plunge off the edge of the cliff, I think it’s important to understand my background and current position:
- I’ve worked most of my post-college working life in creative jobs: Writing and photography. I’m a content creator. And I’ve had stuff ripped off.
- I’ve authored this blog for over five years; again, content creation. Again, stuff ripped off.
- When I was a photographer, my contracts always contained a GPL-like clause (no, I had not heard of the GPL; this was my invention). Basically, when I did shooting for people, they had unlimited uses rights – brochure, annual report, commercial and so on – at no cost, but I retained the copyright. So I could resell the pics; they couldn’t. (As long as the pics were not of their stuff – but why should they own the 400 pics of the American flag I shot for this/or/that campaign, especially when they didn’t use any of the 400? – They still has usage rights to all, recall).
- I currently work for a company that works with companies that have DRM issues. I’m not going to blog about work, but understand that these issues are not just my weekend project.
My DRM take-away?
DRM should go away.
Yes, it’s that simple.
Why? Three main reasons:
- Any DRM put out there will be broken
- DRM = Lock-In
- Lock-In Means Your Data is at Risk
Let’s examine each point individually:
Any DRM put out there will be broken
If you don’t believe this one stop reading and go back to the Disney Channel.
To paraphrase an old chestnut, security is a journey, not a destination. As security improves, so do the hackers and so on.
And who are these hackers? Your great aunt who paid for and downloaded the Golden Girls marathon? Uh, not – the same folks who film first-run movies and hawk them on street corners. Want a really unfair yet somewhat accurate parallel? Consider DRM = Prohibition. Did your great aunt drink more during Prohibition (nah); did Prohibition open up job opportunities to a lot of bad guys? (yep – Prohibition actually helped establish/entrench Organized Crime)
A DRM-less society will – for most people – have virtually no impact because the great mass of folks use downloads etc for fair-use purposes.
I do see a great increase in sharing/swapping of downloads by the digiteri, such as during the (original) Napster days. Is this a problem or an opportunity for the content producers?
Content producers are going to have to get over the illusion that they have absolute control over the distribution of their content. That era, for better or for worse, is over. It’s a different business model; work with it – not against it. Example: How is a clip of Jon Stewart’s Daily Show on YouTube not free advertising (hell, I should watch this show!)?
At the same time, it’s probably NOT fair use, so copyright infringement. So?
The rules have changed; work to monitize this New World of content.
DRM = Lock-In
John Gruber – who is much smarter (and – damn! – a better writer than I) – had an absolutely brilliant article titled Interoperability and DRM Are Mutually Exclusive that finally put the fire under my ass to put down some thoughts about the same subjects.
You should read the whole article, but here are the take-aways (and I’m greatly simplifying):
- Music industry is upset at Apple’s iMusic’s store dominance.
- Music industry refuses to sell to any site without DRM.
- Music industry wants Apple to support other formats – but only with DRM
- Apple will never support any DRM if it has to buy a license from (Microsoft or anyone). No upside for them.
- Apple won’t sell its DRM – why erode iPod sales?
Two very important issues here, which I’ll quickly sum:
Apple’s – or anyone’s – DRM = a proprietary format (Gruber’s conclusion, which I cannot disagree with). I have a buttload of iTunes downloads; a better (in my mind) player than iPod comes along…I’m screwed.
If Apple goes out of business and takes FairPlay DRM to the grave with them…all my music is dead.
OK, this seems bad, but one point Gruber – nor anyone else seems to have addressed – is this: the DRM today, for the most part, is handled by the middleman (Apple, Microsoft et al). DRM owners are NOT the content providers. I see issues; do you?
At the same time, if the content providers (Universal, Sony, NBC etc…) did the DRM, this would not only be a nightmare – multiple DRMs would need support by a single middleman, as well as the tool (players) that receive this content.
Doesn’t this all cry out for a universal, SSL-like standard at the very least?
Lock-In Means Your Data is at Risk
DRM = Lock-In.
You have to agree with this or bail.
DRM = You can only do this or that with this stuff you’ve purchased.
If iTunes changes its DRM, you could potentially be hosed.
Ditto for any other software. If Microsoft Word v111 is not backward compatible with Microsoft Word v110 or v6; again; you’re screwed. This was Pilgrim’s big complaint:
I’m creating things now that I want to be able to read, hear, watch, search, and filter 50 years from now. Despite all their emphasis on content creators, Apple has made it clear that they do not share this goal. Openness is not a cargo cult. Some get it, some don’t. Apple doesn’t.
— Mark Pilgrim, When the bough breaks
He’s right, but this issue is not at all unique to Apple. Let’s take the current (moronic) format war – HD-DVD vs. Blu-Ray. One will probably win, a al VHS vs. BetaMax. If I start backing up stuff on Format A and Format B wins, at some point my backups are worthless.
Not a good thing.
I worry about this on sites like Flickr and so on, as well. Hell, they could go out of business tomorrow, and … all you digital memories are gone.
Note: I use Blogger to post this site, but the posts go to MY domain, in HTML. It’s all there; it’d just be an ugly parsing exercise to get it all back. But if I used WordPress or similar service, I could be in trouble at some point. Which is why I use my own gallery tool.
We are now entering a digital age, where we don’t use atoms, we use bits.
If we can’t have fidelity – longevity – with our bits as we have for the past millenium with our atoms (papers, parchment, pictures…), well, Houston, we have a problem.
I exchanged e-mails with Robert Scoble about a (somewhat) related topic last week, and his response was spot-on:
No one will care until it’s too late and they realize that their photos are locked into a siloed service…
– Rober Scoble (email)
This is the problem we must consider. I’ve probably explained this badly, but read the Gruber and Pilgrim entries and it’ll seem more clear.
This is not a trivial issue.
Our personal history – notes, pictures, videos, music – is at risk.
And I don’t think I’m being melodramatic.