NB My personal blog so my personal views
I had a chat with Ant the other day.
We started by talking about the rather good BBC blog he runs.
After that we argued about DRM.
Arguing about DRM can be fun. But it made me think how much my views have changed over just a couple of years.
The last time I wrote a blog post I still felt that the problem was persuading the people who mattered of the worth of the arguments.
But now I increasingly ask: “is the pain worth the gain?”. It all seems very romantic, but is it practical, and if it’s not practical, is it then desirable?
Here are some notes:
1. If the internet is build on open technologies then there are obvious benefits to being open. But technology is not the same as content. The benefits of content being completely open (i.e. unrestricted by content protection or DRM) have yet to be proved.
2. Complete openness in technologies is useful in a tech environment or in R&D because it allows you to experiment and build new things. But outside the lab most people just want a device that works. They don’t care if it is a proprietary device as long as they can get the content they want. Being able to move content from one device to another feels like a “nice to have” rather than a great moral principle for the average consumer.
3. The rights situation is very very complicated. Much more complicated than I thought it was. There are a small number of speech programmes on Radio 4 which are all rights and so the BBC makes these available without much restriction. But TV is a completely different animal – largely because its more expensive to make, has a market value and people sensibly try to raise revenue from it.
4. The music industry is a red herring. People frequently look at the music industry and say that the changes there are a forerunner of what will happen elsewhere.
What’s actually happening in music is that artists no longer need record companies to bankroll recording and distribution costs. Artists are gaining control of their own rights. The clever ones use a mix of rights models to attract audiences – giving some stuff away, charging for other stuff.
This doesn’t mean that copyright is dead. It means that rights are in the hands of the people who should have controlled them all along.
Singing a song is different from making a Hollywood film. The film requires collaberative working and serious investment. I’d like to have Jason Statham blow something up in my garden for fun but I can’t afford him. The only way I get to see that is if someone else with much deeper pockets funds it, films it and gets a return on their investment. You can see why they would want a form of content protection so that I’m encouraged to buy their DVD. It seems fair enough.
5. “All DRM does is encourage illegal file sharing”.
People have a choice as to whether they illegally file share or they don’t. They are adults and should take responsibility for their actions. If there are a plethora of legal means, devices and platforms available (as there are in the case of BBC iPlayer) the BBC cannot be blamed if someone decides to ignore them all and illegally file share.
6.”Free to air” does not mean “free to copy”. Nor does it mean “free to watch on any device I choose no matter how obscure or how I’ve chosen to customise it”. There are practical limits on what the BBC can reasonably be expected to do.
7. Even though technology is increasingly important to what it does the BBC remains a content maker, not ultimately a technology company. What are the creative benefits of content being unrestricted? Would better content be made as a result?
Yes people are making their own videos on You Tube. And yes these are starting to have an impact on what people watch. But can an amateur video replace Eastenders? What’s the benefit of all this to the person who isn’t technical but wants to watch New Tricks?
I’m sure I’ll continue to argue about DRM. Even possibly in comments on this post.