DRMS in the Night, or the Pounding of Digital Rights

By January 7, 2008General

CES.gifI’m sitting in a conference at CES and the interesting issue of monetizing piracy came up. It’s pretty much agreed that Digital Rights Management (DRM) software for the music industry is on its way out, as Amazon is joining the ranks of Universal and Warner’s offering DRM-free music to their customers. Of course, Apple still uses DRM, but that’s not about curbing piracy but curbing the use of other platforms – why would iTunes want to help fill up your Zune? DRM for movies, meanwhile, is alive and well and will be around for the foreseeable future.

It appears that filtering will be the next big thing in attempting to control piracy, as what’s going on out there is multiple copying, fostered by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act’s failure to foster cooperation between ISPs and content holders . DRM hasn’t slowed down P2P file sharing, as DRM is easily broken. There’s a larger problem at work right now – a cultural problem, where people are debating whether they should to buy that Barry Manilow CD or get it for free from a buddy online. That’s not good (not the decision to listen to Barry, but the weighing of stealing vs. buying). Before piracy can be effectively stamped out (it never will totally, but we’ve got to be vigilant, right?), we’ve got to put back the stigma of theft. Short of new commandment being carved in a tablet of stone by tongues of fire (THOU SHALT NOT RIP AND BURN TUNZ), an effort on reeducating folks – young and old alike – will be desperately needed.

One new technology folks are frittering about is filtering, although filtering is pretty primitive right now, and is only good to find the copyrighted content once it’s out there. Plus it catches up all sorts of fair uses of copyrighted content. For instance, if you posted a YouTube video of your kitty beating up your dog, when Zepplin’s Immigrant Song happened to be playing in the background, you’d find at the least your vid being bounced and most likely also get an RIAA nasty-gram in the mail.

One interesting idea from Jonathan Lee of MediaDefender is to have the record labels create software that would allow them to instead of putting out dummy copies of their much coveted music, allow them to put out legit copies of the music, but with ads that would pop up on your iPod along with the cover art. Eensie weensie legalities such as sorting out confusing licensing relationships would have to be worked out, but it’s an interesting idea – monetizing piracy to the benefit of the labels, er, artists.

Marc-Anthony Signorino is director, technology policy, at the National Association of Manufacturers.

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