Why DRM Will Always Suck

The main reason DRM sucks so bad is that, despite what you may have heard, it has nothing to do with piracy.

The RIAA/MPAA and its constituents represent a dying industry. I think it’s dying, in short, because it has failed to evolve with the world in which it operates. Rather than bring greater variety and quality and service to the consumer, which it could easily do, it has focussed instead on digging its trenches deeper and deeper, demanding that the world should continue to be happy with the same crud it has been churning out for decades while alternative methods for acquiring music rapidly eclipse the old. As the world increasingly refuses to accept that demand, the RIAA has turned to legislation and litigation in order to bring people back to their way of thinking. You’d have to be really old, wealthy, and stupid to think that’s going to work.

Enter DRM.

To the crusty old white guys in their business suits, DRM seems like Excalibur, the Holy Grail, and the Fountain of Youth all rolled into one. With it, they think, they will be able to get you to pay for ever smaller slices of the services they sell. Buy an “album” and listen to it for as long as you want and then sell it to someone else when you’re done? No, no, no. With DRM, you will pay per track, maybe even per listen. No doubt, the dinosaurs dream of a system where you pay per minute to enjoy their product, and as soon as you stop streaming your cash to them, they shut off the flow of their golden juice to you, leaving you with nothing but a memory to show for your depleted funds.

The problem, of course, is that instead of using the new technology to bring ever greater value to their customers what they’re doing is artificially increasing the value of their ever devaluating product, which is another way of saying “ripping off their customers.” I think it’s obvious that DRM takes more time and money to develop than music does these days. And kids break DRM for fun, as we have seen. Artificial scarcity requires draconian and immoral measures to maintain: see the Diamond Industry. This will never work for music, which anyone can create and publish in increasingly varied ways (something else kids do for fun). DRM simply has no chance of success. It’s only effective/annoying against the people that weren’t going to violate the terms of any reasonable copyright in the first place.

As a side note: I think that sharing music files primarily hurts the record companies. Bands have historically made their money by touring; record sales provide them tiny profit. I’m not saying it’s right or wrong, just that it hurts record companies more than it hurts artists. A worse fate for an artist than piracy is obscurity by far.


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