This is how Hollywood Thanks its Best Customers

Adam Thierer celebrates HDCP and HDMI, which help ensure that your HD content can only be used with crippled devices that obey Hollywood’s commands.

Adam appreciates new software that allows him to make nifty uses of his own digital media, like (circumventing DRM to) rip DVDs onto his computer.  You’d think he’d be more sympathetic to the damage these restrictions will to early adopters of new tools.

You see, plenty of early HD equipment – TVs, projectors, graphics cards, receivers – doesn’t support this content production.  When consumers, for instance, get a new HD-DVD, they’ll get video of below HD quality (down rezzing).  They might not be able to watch at all if the HDDVD blocks the analog output (selectable output) — not because the equipment isn’t technically capable of playing HD, but because Hollywood doesn’t trust them.

That’s how Hollywood thanks its best customers, the early-and-often adopters.  It breaks their compatible devices and forces them to repurchase products they already own.  Contrary to Thierer’s suggestions, the migration to these devices is anything but “natural.”  What’s natural about consumers being forced to throw out their current HDTV and buy another with less features?  What consumer wants that?

Indeed, what is the social benefit of these restrictions?  Thankfully, Thierer doesn’t really try to pretend that these restrictions have anything to do with stopping piracy. Cracking HDCP or recording the analog video (even without using the analog output) will still be trivial for some people, and it only takes one of them to spread it on P2P.  Instead, these restrictions are about building “innovative”new business models around charging for personal uses. 

As I (and many others) have said repeatedly, it’s time people faced that that is the only justification for the DMCA.  All its collateral damage – to competition, innovation, and legitimate uses – need to be measured against that.  The DMCA is why DVD player manufacturers are forced to build equipment with restricted outputs that may break your home entertainment system. 

Given that Thierer feels so adamantly about his right to rip DVDs, I’ve never understood why he would celebrate restrictions like HDCP and HDMI without actively railing against the DMCA.  Regardless of what he thinks of DRM, the DMCA is a dangerous limit on legitimate competition and uses.

[Updated, on apr 13, corrected sentence about selectable output]