Technology to beat Pirates on the High Internet? (or services to make people happy?)

October 13, 2006 at 12:59 PM | categories: python, oldblog | View Comments

People clamouring for DRM systems continue to miss some key points. Two links to two articles which are interesting counterpoints to each other. One claims technology will win the day pointing at legal services as successes. It misses the reason the legal systems are a success are because of service not technology. The other points out the reason why teens (especially) engage in infringment is because they have no other real option - no one is providing them a useful service. The former group should look at the latter and think about how to deal with this.

The BBC reports on an anti-piracy campaign which assumes that technology can win the day - that technology designed at its core for copying and transforming bits from one place and form to another can be used to lock down such things. It cites the success of legal music downloads as proof of this. The irony is in reality the reason people use iTunes has nothing to do with DRM, but everything to do with service. The DRM enables content providers to think "this will protect my work", when the existance of Hymn and a dozen other tools prove this to be a fallacy. And yet they have an income. Why? Because iTunes provides a service that people want at a price people want.

However, it is also an exclusionary service, what about those using unsupported operating systems? (This impacts me for example, I'd be tempted by the TV, but I'm happy to wait for it to turn up on Sky) What about those who don't have a credit card? For a business the market size is certainly large enough, but a public service which needs to be universal access, it can't be the right model (can it?). This leads me to the counterpoint article by Julien McArdle .

In this article it points out that if you're (say) between the ages of 12 and 18, you can't get a credit card (OK, in some countries you can, but not here). You can't buy access to iTunes in a shop (again, in places in the US you can, but not here). You have two options - either go to your parents and ask them to buy your music or find some other way to get it. Now we're talking about teenagers, the demographic that is stereotyped as not getting on with their parents at all, especially on the point of music. Yes, in an ideal world this wouldn't be a problem, but we don't live in an ideal world.

As a result they have limited options for listening to music on an iPod or similar.

One obvious option is to go and buy the music at a shop and rip it yourself. This sounds fine since everyones getting paid, but is actually copyright infringement in the UK (though you'd be hard pressed to show lost revenue). However, bear in mind at this point, if they take this route they have already infringed copyright. It doesn't matter that they've paid for it, it doesn't matter they didn't download it off Kazaa or Limewire, or similar, they've infringed. They're damned if they pay and rip, and they're damned in the same way if they download without paying.

Now consider someone who doesn't have any idea about how to rip a CD that they buy, transcode it to AAC, MP3, or WMV. What option do they have? Well, they can ask someone who does know how to do this for a copy of their music. And given sharing is blugeoned into children (in the nicest possible way) from birth, the default is for people to say "sure". As a result, those who can rip share with their friends. Those who can't share what they get with their friends. (right or wrong, this is what happens and the basic core motivation boils down to conditioning like "Share your toys/book/chocolates/cds with your brother/sister/friends")

And that's how a P2P system gets populated with unauthorised copies - people being nice to their friends... multiplied by the Kevin Bacon game. The next step in this chain is this - why would someone who can't rip a CD buy that CD if all it's going to be is a £15 ($30) table coaster? They're teenagers, not rich. If they could spend £15 ($30) on music and play it on a device they want to play it on, they would.

The sad thing here is everyone in that chain would agree - the artist needs to be paid for their work. The doubly sad thing here is, the bulk of people in this demographic who would want to pay for music (so their favourite artists can make more music), and are targeted as pirates have no other realistic option.

Where's the service that makes iTunes (or almost any other online service) realistic for that demographic clamouring for music? DRM won't stop them infringing - providing the service they can actually use and will happily pay for will. There's a market there, and if you can make them happy you'll be rich.

Finally, note: I'm not saying here that DRM is per se a good or bad thing, I'm deliberately steering away from saying DRM is good or bad. One good thing about it is that it encourages trust in a system for many content producers, owners and providers. The worst thing (IMO) about it is that it is currently divisive.

The basic technology has merits beyond the music world for it's ability to mark content as private (family photos, videos) and keep it private (as some people wish some things they'd said would be).

For the record, I very very very rarely buy music (I watch more TV or listen to the radio), but when I do I go in a shop and buy something classical in a sale - I like physical shops - you can often get a nice coffee nearby :) .

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