DRM and DMCA – by “Ben L”

So as we learned, there can be a huge variety of derivative music produced from any given source, like the Amen Break. In fact, you can find 40 variations right here, a testament to remixing. Today, sampling is increasingly restricted, as are attempts around DRM software and copying for use without modification. What seems to be happening, however, is a tug of war on both the legal issues and the technology issues. In both media and software, when is it prohibitively difficult or expensive to get something, people will look for another way. For example, if Girl Talk wants to sell music sampling from 300 songs, that’s going to be a lat of licensing fees and time. The solution is to simply not get the licensing. At the same time, games and all sorts of other software are pirated at some loss to the producer. While the argument “I would never pay for that anyway, and the company hasn’t actually lost anything,” works to some extent, there are certainly a significant number of people who refuse to pay precisely and only because they can get it for free. The balancing act here is to have law and software that allows fair use without letting piracy run amok, that maintains profitability without stifling new work or legitimate use.

This seems to be resulting in a software and legal conflict that, to me at lease, looks like it will continue to turn out well. While youtube keeps up its content identification tool to automatically block, track, or add ads, Maxis has taken the controversial SecuROM software off of Sim 3 , and it looks like they will stay away from hijacking software in the future. Incidentally, I have Spore installed and was displeased to learn about SecuROM from the reading. I wondered how I could not have known about it, until I looked at one of the few non-specialized news stories with an article. Either the LA times reporter, but more likely EA, has mischaracterized the issue. I don’t think it was ever about how many computers Spore could be on, since they likely correctly predicted only a few users might legitimately need more than 3. It was about control of the machine, which nobody wants to give up. Once you lose control of your machine, you lose the ability to innovate, and compete for legitimate uses of products, such as watching DVDs on Linux. But if big companies can neither profitably nor reliably (haiku deCSS anyone?) control their works once they are purchased, nor confidently sue artists such as Girl Talk, then I think we’re doing pretty well. I predict Congress will quickly realize that the pitfalls of passing law that is both unenforceable and against the wishes of a large group of people (prohibition?) apply to the DMCA, and that record companies will learn to put up with remixes. We can’t lose the right to read quickly – there is circular problem. As long as people have machines they control, and there are a lot of them, then it just won’t be practical or profitable to try and control everything.

So SecuROM gets taken off and Linux users still find ways to watch DVDs, but how do companies maintain profit? They seem to be having some success – nobodies stopped making music and software – so I guess they will just have to keep making things people want to buy, and shutting down the biggest of legitimate pirates.

3 thoughts on “DRM and DMCA – by “Ben L”

  1. Recently, I was looking through all of the Spore reviews on Amazon. According to many of the reviews, the “three computers” rule is more like a “three activations” rule. So, if you reinstall your OS, or upgrade your graphics card, for example, you’ll have to reactivate the game, which makes the limitation seem more restrictive. I agree with you that the bigger issue is the behavior of the SecuROM protection itself, not the activations. There’s tons of angry reviews where people say that the SecuROM protection has made their computer slower and unstable, causing everything from freezes to BSODs (blue screens of death).

    It really strikes me how invasive and aggressive the new copy protections have become. I remember when there were simple CD checks and the copy protection would just prevent “causal copying,” when the average user would try to make a disc-to-disc copy for their friend. They wouldn’t interfere or cause any problems to anyone who legitimately owned the game. And, no matter how strong or weak the protection is, it is always cracked and pirated. It seems like the people who want to pirate the game can’t really be stopped, so why make the protection so strong that it messes up the legitimate user’s computer?

    Also, just out of curiosity, does anyone know if the Mac version also had the same SecuROM protection and created similar problems (crashes, freezes, etc.)?

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  2. @Michael C, I’d agree that it’s striking how invasive DRM is. But, with piracy gaining such a mainstream foothold, it’s hardly surprising. No one at EA is paid to fight against draconian DRM and DRM is, within the corporation, undoubtedly the path of least resistance.

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  3. I recently purchased my first “iTunes LP” album–more info here: http://support.apple.com/kb/HT3823

    Basically, along with all the songs, you get this pretty amazing interactive LP experience. It’s supposed to harken back to the days when you would flip through the insert book while listening. It’s really impressive–designed by the artist, special videos/images/etc. Each song has its own design with full lyrics, etc. There are visualizers made by the artist for each song, too.

    My point is, if I have the choice, I will always buy my albums through iTunes when there’s an LP. They’ve created a really amazing user experience–this is the kind of thinking music labels need to be thinking about. People are willing to pay for the experience, if not the music.

    Of course, it won’t be long till someone figures out how to pirate the LPs. The lesson, nevertheless, remains.

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