Monday, November 07, 2005

Digital Rights, Social Wrongs, Economic Corrections and Clueless Lawmakers

The "M" In DRM Stands For Madness

"Sooner or later, it was bound to happen — a Digital Restrictions Management (DRM) management technology that, by design, often keeps you from consuming that content on devices that use other DRM technologies actually ends up keeping you from consuming content that's protected by it as well. Talk about a trainwreck. Actually, in this case, we have two trainwrecks in one — trainwrecks that perfectly demonstrate how proprietary DRM technologies are going to turn the frictionless utopia we should be after into a friction-laden migraine headache."Microsoft released an update for their Media Center platform that can wreak havoc with your content if you do something stupid, like change the processor, hard drive or something insanely foolhardy like alter a BIOS setting. (image placeholder)Micro$oft has rreleased a simple 5 step process to fix this issue. Well, they used 5 numbers in counting the steps. It looks more like 20+ steps when you include the notes and the fact that step 4 (or step eleventeen, depending on how you count) takes you to a friendly "Upgrading your Windows Media DRM Component" wizard that will no doubt take you through the "Windows Genuine Advantage" screens too. So, call it 50 steps. Can you imagine going through this hassle? The more DRM I see, the better my DRM hacking kung fu is getting. (image placeholder)

Last week, clueless lawmakers held hearings on Hollywood's myriad proposals for crippling technology to preserve their antiquated business models: Broadcast Flags, the A. Hole proposal, and intentionally breaking all digital radio devices.
Here's a torrent of the video of the hearings. Watch closely and note which lawmakers are commiting career-suicide by volunteering to break the American public's televisions. Torrent Link (Thanks, Tom!)
Web sites instruct fans on how to beat copy-protected CDs
In one of the most bizarre turn yet in the record industry's piracy struggles, stars Dave Matthews Band, Foo Fighters and Switchfoot -- and even Sony BMG, when the label gets complaints -- are telling fans how they can beat the system. Sony BMG Music Entertainment now regularly releases its new U.S. titles on CDs protected with digital rights management (DRM) that dictates which file formats consumers can use to digitally copy the music. MP3 is not one of those formats. The DRM also limits how many copies of the files consumers can make. more here.
I’ll splurge this down, rather than worry about actually having a coherent and fluid argument.
1. DRM makes devices less flexible, and less able to adapt to future uses.2. This shortens the lifespan of consumer electronics goods.3. Consumer electronics poses significant environmental externalities in its production and disposal not borne by the producer or consumer. (Although there are efforts to remedy this.)4. DRM is environmentally unfriendly.5. DRM prevents the use of material in ways tha has wider social benefits (e.g. remixing by school children as part of a project).6. Devices containing DRM should be taxed to reflect their social and environmental externalities.
Note the twist at the end. We don’t outlaw DRM, or repeal laws that make its use enforceable.
If you wanted to get the political establishment on your side, just find some vocal interest group to hypothecate your iPod tax towards (e.g. starving millionaire rock stars), et voila the lawmaking machinery jumps into action. Don’t campaign against DRM. Use the price mechanism, Luke - it pervades all things and binds all things together. Find your own body of vested interest, and harness it.
Perhaps we should simply generalise this? Laws like DMCA and EUCD are little more than state-sponsored protection rackets for established business models, so why not claw back some of the benefit? Sure, you can have DMCA protection! Just as long as you register your product with the Bit Reproducion and Transmission Device Commission and pay the usual 5% of sales to the government ;)
Quite how the anti-tax free-marketer inside me manages to struggle out of this intellectual straight-jacket, I’m not so sure…
I’ve been slowly making my way into Oz Shy’s Economics of Network Industries (about 18 months after Bruce Williamson first recommended it to me at WTF, so it’s taking a while). I’ll comment about the book in more detail another day, but if there’s one take-away it is this: there are many different kinds of network industry resulting from different forms of “interface” between the network components. It is by no means obvious which (if any) flavours of network industry a DMCA-like law is economically efficient for, or whether indeed any such in-depth analysis was ever done prior to copyright maximalism taking hold. It might behoove some of the campaigners for DRM reform to look beyond their own intellectual circle and engage the economists who have already trodden this turf. Make the lawmakers see you’ve done your homework.
Hmm, how about this for a really wild thought, well outside telecom. Capitalism is the economic technology that replaced feudalism. It found a superior way of harnessing self-interest to promote the wider good. This was achieved through increased decentralisation of economic power — you didn’t need to ask permission to start a business. We’re still hunting for the social technology to replace v1.0 mass democracy, whatever it may be. Once we crack the problem issues like DMCA will probably go away, since capture of the lawmaking process will become too expensive. To subvert Hayek’s economic message, the pricing information of new laws will more readily become apparent to those affected. This undermines the “information advantage” that the lobbyists have: a few people know they stand to gain much, whilst the masses don’t realise they’ve each lost a little bit of their cultural and economic opportunity.
(Then again, if Americans haven’t yet discovered the superiority of Bramley apples for making apple pie, I don’t hold out too much hope for a world without distance eliminating all social and economic barriers to opportunity…)
Until you either reach your techno-regulated anarchist nirvana (or opt out of trying), there’s only way of dealing with polluting digital technologies: old-fashioned political slog.
20 congressjerks who want the Broadcast Flag -- give 'em a call and give 'em what for
Twenty suicidal congresscritters are calling for the speedy adoption of a broadcast flag, trying to unmake the work that the courts did this past May when they killed the initiative. The broadcast flag says that all digital TV technology has to be approved by Hollywood's bought-and-paid-for regulators, and the rubric for it is that if we don't give Hollywood this unprecedented veto, they'll stop making stuff available for digital TV. Note that no one in Hollywood has ever promised that they will produce DTV high-def content if they get this dumb rule -- this isn't even very convincing blackmail.
Is your congressjerk on the list below? Give her or him a call, and let it be known that elected lawmakers who break their constituents' televisions don't get re-elected (assholes).
Find out if your rep is on the list here.
John Shadegg, R-AZ, (202) 225-3361 Mary Bono, R-CA, (202) 225-5330 George Radanovich, R-CA, (202) 225-4540 John Shimkus, R-IL (202) 225-5271 Bobby Rush, D-IL, (202) 225-4372 Ed Whitfield, R-KY, (202) 225-3115 Albert Wynn, D-MD, (202) 225-8699 Charles Pickering, R-MS, (202) 225-5031 Lee Terry, R-NE, (202) 225-4155 Charles Bass, R-NH, (202) 225-5206 Mike Ferguson, R-NJ, (202) 225-5361 Frank Pallone, D-NJ, (202) 225-4671 Eliot Engel, D-NY, (202) 225-2464 Vito Fossella, R-NY, (202) 225-3371 Edolphus Towns, D-NY, (202) 225-5936 John Sullivan, R-OK, (202) 225-2211 Michael Doyle, D-PA, (202) 225-2135 Marsha Blackburn, R-TN, (202) 225-2811 Bart Gordon, D-TN, (202) 225-4231 Charles Gonzalez, D-TX, (202) 225-3236
I know, I know. We keep killing this thing, and it keeps on coming back. But the important thing is that we keep killing it. Us. They put tens of millions of bucks into this bid to make technology subservient to the superstitious fantasies of venal film execs, and we killed it by sending thousands and thousands and thousands of letters, calls, and faxes to DC. We made it happen. We'll make it happen again. They're not going to win this one, EVER. Link (via Copyfight)

  1. Online guide to understanding Digital Rights Management(image placeholder)The EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation) online guide to understanding Digital Rights Management (DRM) and End User License Agreements (EULAs) more and more often tacitly imposed by record labels and online music services (iTunes) on the music you buy. The EFF Guide includes information about four alternative online music services which do sell unrestricted, DRM-free music files.http://www.eff.org/IP/DRM/guide/

  1. The Future of Music(image placeholder)This is a book about music and the music business in the twenty-first century. If you can visualize a world where music flows all around you, like water, or like electricity, and where access to music becomes a kind of "utility" then you can understand what is in this book. In this world, we share, contribute, collaborate, and trade music amid a constant flow of new songs that suit our tastes and preferences, without any palpable constraints or limitations. Music is ubiquitous and served up in easy, friendly formats. Like water, it is simply present just about everywhere, anytime. If you want to learn how fans, artists, and all kinds of music communities will drive the new music business, rather than being driven by corporate powers, this may be the right book to read.http://www.futureofmusicbook.com/


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