More Silliness On Interoperability and DRM

Billboard reports that the music industry is pushing Apple and MS to solve their DRM interop problems, and even suggests that there have been private talks between the relevant parties.  The solution: “transcoding” – being able to securely turn a FairPlay-AAC file into a Secure WMA file.  So Apple won’t sell you an actual WMA file, but it will provide you the means to turn their files into WMA.


Maybe the RIAA is serious about pursuing a business model that would take advantage of DRM as described below.  But, in the current environment, DRM is not playing that role.  It is dragging down the market and providing no real benefit. Given that, all the compatibility problems can be solved with three letters: M-P-3.

Technology as Speed Bump

Mary discusses more of the Digital Media Summit, including Professor Nesson’s talk.  The closest analogue to his idea in the Digital Media Project’s “five scenarios” is actually the Technology Speed Bump scenario, one that’s now been broken out on its own.

This scenario fascinates me for many reasons (its the motivation behind last week’s post on release windows). One interesting part is the role of DRM.  Unlike in today’s digital media market, DRM might have some use in preventing piracy in the speed bump scenario and the biz model Professor Nesson describes. 

Contrary to the content industries’ hopes, DRM does not stop piracy, nor does it even reduce piracy by itself.  Rather, it can only reduce the initial number of uploaders.  Given that one copy can spread infinitely, DRM has been declared basically useless.  Moreover, the speed bump threat model has been declared dead.  The darknet paper basically confirms as much.

But the darknet paper is also careful to note that DRM’s affects might vary “in the presence of a darknet, which is connected, but in which factors, such as latency, limited bandwidth or the absence of a global database limit the speed with which objects propagate through the darknet.”  Consider the plan Professor Nesson describes.  DRM becomes more meaningful because, if you can limit the number of initial uploaders, interdiction becomes much more possible and thus effective. Interdiction is tough if you have to stop myriad uploaders.   Moreover, by limiting the initial uploaders through DRM and their propagation speed through interdiction, spoofing can be more effective, because there are less good copies that need to be crowded out.

These impediments will not stop everyone. But in the short term, they might form an adequate speed bump to create that new release window.  Of course, interdiction and spoofing can be defeated.  And, as I have expressed before, I have significant misgivings about this scenario and am not confident that copyright holders will be able to keep up.  But if they could keep up only for a short period of time, it might have some benefit.  Maybe.  If so, then DRM might finally have an effect on piracy, as it was supposed to, rather than simply preventing competition, legitimate uses, interoperability, and innovation.  Maybe.