Against Monopoly

defending the right to innovate


Monopoly corrupts. Absolute monopoly corrupts absolutely.

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earlier posts

The Problem with DRM

This is why I think government mandated DRM isn't merely bad policy, but crazy policy. On the other hand, if companies are foolish enough to want to lose all their customers by putting DRM in their products, well there thankfully isn't yet a law that mandates companies sell only things people want to buy. I don't give advice on buying stocks, but Microsoft surely doesn't have much of a future.

Or temporary DRM

I've always thought that in a copyright free world (and de facto that is our online world now - whatever they law may proclaim) DRM had a role to play. Not the role of permanently putting content under lock and key - that isn't feasible. But it is possible to use DRM on a short-term basis for new releases to give some short-term monopoly power - and this might provide some useful incentive for creation, while being largely self-limiting. By unlocking the content after a brief period of initial sales the incentive to crack the DRM is greatly reduced, while from a revenue point of view, most of the money is from the initial sales anyway.

It seems that the gaming industry - by far the largest and most successful user of DRM - has figured this out. My main thought on this is that they would do themselves a huge favor by making formal commitments to removing DRM after a specified period of time, rather than the current informal "maybe we will, maybe we won't, and who can say exactly when" method. In fact the business model of closed source/DRM for a fixed prespecified period of time followed by unlocked open source rights going to the user would probably be an extremely successful business model. If only creators didn't act like small children: "mine, mine, mine."

Kindle DRM Cracked

From BBC News:

Hacker cracks Kindle's copyright

An Israeli hacker claims to have broken the copyright protection on Amazon's Kindle e-reader, reports say.

The hack will allow the ebooks stored on the reader to be transferred as pdf files to any other device.

The hacker, known as Labba, responded to a challenge posted on Israeli hacking forum, hacking.org.

It is the latest in a series of Digital Rights Management hacks, the most famous being the reverse engineering of iTunes.

The Kindle e-book reader has been very successful since it was launched in the US in 2007.

Amazon hopes to have sold a million devices by the end of the year.

It leaves it to individual publishers whether they want to apply DRM but books in its main proprietary format .azw, cannot be transferred to other devices.

It did not immediately respond to the news but it is likely it will attempt to patch its DRM software.

DRM has long divided opinion. While rights holders regard it as a crucial tool to protect copyright, consumers tend to hate it because it limits what can be done with content.

"DRM is not an effective way of preventing copying nor is it a good way of making sales. There isn't a customer out there saying 'what I need is an electronic book that does less," novelist and co-editor of the Boing Boing blog Cory Doctorow told the BBC when the Kindle was launched.

As soon as a new DRM system is active, hackers begin to try and break it.

Most famously Jon Lech Johansen, known as DVD Jon, cracked the copy protection on DVDs in 1999.

He went on to break the copyright protection on iTunes, leading Apple to offer DRM-free music.

DVD Jon now runs a company with an application to take the pain out of moving different types of content between devices.

Frustrating Kindle

Dan Cohen had a frustrating time with his Kindle and iPhone relating to DRM. He tells about it here and here.

The "bottom line":

You are able to redownload your books an unlimited number of times to any specific device.

Any one time the books can be on a finite number of devices. In most cases that means you can have the same book on six different devices.

Unfortunately the publishers decide how many licenses, that is devices, a book can be on at any one time. While most of the time that will be five or six different devices there will be times when it's only one device.

At the present time there is no way to know how many devices can be licensed prior to buying the book. [Emphasis added.]

I guess we shouldn't be surprised.

Penguin, others are phasing out DRM

DigitalKoans reports that Penguin is dropping DRM. It also links to a New York Times article that shows this is a general trend. Good news.

Is DRM violating your "fair use"?

I am always amazed at what one encounters by accident on the internet. Knowing the general views of my colleagues on this blog and their opposition to DRM as bad public policy, it strikes me that our readers will find this an interesting free software download, designed to remove DRM from legally acquired material. I haven't tried it because I haven't been bugged by DRM except as an idea limiting my rights, but the reference is offered for those who want to experiment. The download is here link here and the instructions are here here or here.

Biggest Technology Flops

There is an amusing article with a list of "greatest technology flops." Interesting that out of the top three two involve DRM - the Digital Audio Tape: died because of a mandatory copy protection scheme built into every unit, and Circuit City's DIVX - the DVD you couldn't play for more than two days unless you paid them extra money to unlock it. Turning to page two we find e-books - funny but not so many people want to buy e-books that are DRMed for one and only one e-book reader...So it looks like three out of the top fourteen worst business ideas involved DRM. Coincidence? I think not.


For an extra 30 cents you will be able to get songs from EMI on itunes without DRM - for 30 cents less you can get the DRM version. It will be interesting to see how many people buy the DRM version and remove it themselves...The EMI press release is here

The new higher quality DRM-free music will complement EMI's existing range of standard DRM-protected downloads already available. From today, EMI's retailers will be offered downloads of tracks and albums in the DRM-free audio format of their choice in a variety of bit rates up to CD quality. EMI is releasing the premium downloads in response to consumer demand for high fidelity digital music for use on home music systems, mobile phones and digital music players. EMI's new DRM-free products will enable full interoperability of digital music across all devices and platforms.

A good summary of why DRM infested music is an inferior product.

Sales of Music, Long in Decline, Plunge Sharply

According to the Wall Street Journal "compact-disc sales for the first three months of this year plunged 20% from a year earlier." Now I'm not sure why anyone would care: presumably sales of LP's, 8-track and cassette tapes has been zero for some time, and nobody seems especially out of sorts over it. Will the WSJ have an article about the sad decline of the buggy whip market next?

Buried deep within the article is the real news "Overall, sales of all music -- digital and physical -- are down 10% this year. And even including sales of ringtones, subscription services and other 'ancillary' goods, sales are still down 9%, according to one estimate; some recording executives have privately questioned that figure, which was included in a recent report by Pali Research." While perhaps not so dramatic as 20%, 9% - which seems to be the real number - is still a substantial fall.

If you want to understand why the fall in sales, I don't think you have to look much further than this To summarize:

I must admit to being completely flummoxed. There I sat, a loyal music fan who has shelled out actual money to a business that is supposed to be having financial problems, and the best they can do is tell me to wander the streets of Seattle looking for different internet providers who might allow me to download the music that I have already paid for, music that I have spent the better part of three house trying to listen to, and which is still unusable?

Apparently the music industry takes the maxim "no one ever got poor underestimating the intelligence of the marketplace" a little too seriously. Nobody ever got rich by offending their best customers either.

Is DRM the Right Business Model?

A nice essay by author Eric Flint on DRM. Flint is affiliated with Baen Press; Baen is a science fiction publishing house that has been a pioneer in selling e-books, and has always offered them free of DRM. (I count myself among their satisfied customers; I've probably spent as much money on Baen e-books the last five years as on paper books.) To Flint's essay I will simply add: I have from time to time been curious as to whether anyone bothers to "share" Baen unencrypted e-books over peer-to-peer networks. The only ones I've ever found are books from the "free lending library" which are the books you are encouraged to redistribute over peer-to-peer.

earlier posts


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James Boyle's new book with his congenial IP views free to download

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