Commentary

Digital Rights Management -- Go, No Go, Or Just Behind The Curtain?

In the late '90s, the music industry fell victim to rampant P2P file-sharing applications that made copying and sharing music a fairly common practice. One could consider this development but the first shockwave of the digital era -- or perhaps it was simply an inevitable next step in a new not-so-obvious and not-so-welcome change in the fundamental business paradigm.

No matter the view, the days of buying the Beatles' "Rubber Soul" album are long gone. Today we have at least two generations that have used PCs and widely available ripping software to copy and in some cases distribute music entertainment. This continues today, though policing actions have been more effective. Nevertheless, today there are teens and young adults out there who have never purchased a CD or a DVD -- and music retailers continue to lament the digital age for lost CD sales and unchecked rights violations.

And so what is the future for video and for television? Video content providers have been zealots with respect to digital rights management, especially after witnessing the woes of the music industry. But now we reckon with new announcements from Amazon about Unbox, a premium video downloading service -- and from Apple, an iTunes Plus DRM-less audio content service at $1.29 per track. The music industry, it seems, may be moving down the DRM-less on-demand pathway. Is this a shift in DRM philosophy or a changing business paradigm with DRM implication for music?

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And what of video and containing video downloads? The truth of the matter is that video is subject to many of the same digital toolsets that allow a skilled user to make copies and share, albeit with some generation loss in video quality. The difference is that video's typically large file sizes means that it's more work for ripping video applications, and the occasional user probably does not make for an immense problem (yet). Of course major violators will always be castigated when caught ripping major video titles such as first-run movies, etc.

But what of the move by the music industry to remove some of the DRM focus and make it easy for users to do what the music industry once fought -- and for an upfront fee? And what is the deal with emerging pay for video download services -- and how is DRM containment achieved? Are we witnessing a new video business flavor, or a seismic change?

Last I checked, DVD titles and television DVD titles were a huge revenue source. Ahhh... just finished downloading an Amazon video title. And, yes, I have the title.... Took a while because of bandwidth... and, yes, I guess I can move the title to a portable viewing device .... But darn it, the proprietary player won't let me burn the title to DVD! Seems that Windows DRM got in the way. Curses!

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