Microsoft's Amir Majidimehr said something stupid at an Informa Telecoms & Media Digital Rights Management conference today: Microsoft doesn't want to support an ecosystem of hobbyists. Ian Brown provides an excellent summary of the whole day, but here's the dumb thing:
Amir Majidimehr, Corporate VP at Microsoft's Windows Digital Media Division, gave the standard presentation of the capabilities of Windows and Media Player. He did though reveal some interesting strategic business decisions made by his company. Their "open" DRM platform requires licencees to sign an agreement with Microsoft, and pay a licence fee that serves to keep the number of licencees small. A fellow attendee's verbatim note was: "We don't want this technology to be available to every hobbyist. We need to keep the number of licensees down to a manageable number. We charge a license fee to keep the number of people we have to deal with down to a level we can handle."
I think DRM is an inevitable friction in content delivery for the time being, because a culture of digital trust has not developed. A new negotiation is underway that, while it won’t eliminate DRM, will tip the power substantially toward the customer.The world looks scary to content owners who imagine their stuff will be freely distributed no matter how costly it is to produce and anti-DRM forces, rather than work with content providers, often attack anyone associated with the technology. In the meantime, DRM done right, with full backups of files so they can be retrieved if the user's system fails and loses the original copies and a lax approach to the number of copies allowed by the DRM, is the field of battle.
Face it, DRM isn't going away, because the same technology can also be used to secure communication between people. Do you think there is a need for a secure podcasting system that allows companies to communicate internally without having the audio passed to "unauthorized" recipients? Even if that's backward thinking, it's the way 95 percent of our businesspeople think. Is it reasonable that a family would want to have a private store of audio and video that can't be grabbed and mashed up without their permission? Want to count the audience for a podcast and how many of them actually listened to an advertisement? Those and many other forms of privacy are dependent on the technology we call DRM.
But, when Microsoft makes the statement that it wants to shut hobbyists out of the market for DRM-enabled applications, it commits exactly the kind of boneheaded monopolistic intellectual crime that keeps the company from working in the community of developers and customers to make DRM "right" because it smacks of a total unwillingness to compromise.
Cory Doctorow—not someone you want to piss off when it comes to DRM—summarizes how Majidihmer screwed up on many levels:
I was pretty surprised to hear an executive from Microsoft describe his company's strategy as intentionally anti-competitive and intended solely to freeze out certain classes of operators rather than maximizing its profits through producing a better product and charging a fair price for it.
Isn't that why the Justice Department and the EU went after Redmond in the first place?
If you look at history, it is a long process of negotiating new checks and balances in the systems of freedoms allotted to different stakeholders. During the mass media era, the content providers pretty much held all the cards, but now a new negotiation is underway that, while it won't eliminate DRM, will tip the power substantially toward the customer.
Microsoft had better get in that conversation rather than try to stand outside it. Majidihmer called the Microsoft DRM "open," during the meeting and that means the developer program should not be based on how many partners Microsoft can "handle" but on a free riffing on the technology that can improve the customer experience, which is the only factor that matters to the success of content delivered through the DRM.
[Full disclosure: I worked with Audible Inc. to design and launch its Wordcast service, which has a DRM capability, based on Audible's 10-year-old audio file format, as well as the ability to deliver unsecured freely distributable files. Anyone can sign up to develop a client using the DRM. We're trying to do DRM right and don't claim perfection.]