Thursday, July 31, 2003

Tim O Reilly on DRM

DRM is a non-starter, at least as currently conceived. It's baffling to me that the content industries don't look at the experience of the software industry in the 80's, when copy protection on software was widely tried, and just as widely rejected by consumers. As science fiction writer William Gibson said, "The future is here. It's just not evenly distributed yet." The software industry was the first to face the issue that bits are easily copyable. It was also the first to try to create artificial boundaries to that copying. But because copy protection greatly inconvenienced customers, it slowed the adoption of any software that used it. We're seeing exactly the same thing now with music, where copy protection schemes have caused consumers to reject the crippled offerings of the commercial online music services.

I believe that the content industries will flourish online once they stop fighting their users and start offering them what they want at a price they think is fair. That's the way it works in every other field of commerce! And we're already seeing this with Apple's music service, the closest yet to a system that users feel is fair and usable. As soon as Apple rolls it out on Windows (or as soon as competing vendors learn the lessons Apple is teaching), we're going to see a whole new ballgame.

: Obscurity is a far greater threat to authors and creative artists than piracy

Piracy is progressive taxation
Piracy is a kind of progressive taxation, which may shave a few percentage points off the sales of well-known artists (and I say "may" because even that point is not proven), in exchange for massive benefits to the far greater number for whom exposure may lead to increased revenues.

Customers want to do the right thing, if they can.
The simplest way to get customers to stop trading illicit digital copies of music and movies is to give those customers a legitimate alternative, at a fair price.

Shoplifting is a bigger threat than piracy.

. If a bookstore has only one copy of your book, or a music store one copy of your CD, a shoplifted copy essentially makes it disappear from the next potential buyer's field of possibility. Because the store's inventory control system says the product hasn't been sold, it may not be reordered for weeks or months, perhaps not at all.

File sharing networks don't threaten book, music, or film publishing. They threaten existing publishers.

: "Free" is eventually replaced by a higher-quality paid service

: There's more than one way to do it

And that's the ultimate lesson. "Give the wookie what he wants!" as Han Solo said so memorably in the first Star Wars movie. Give it to him in as many ways as you can find, at a fair price, and let him choose which works best for him.


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