Sun's Schwartz has right DRM idea, but maybe not the power

Sun's Schwartz has right DRM idea, but maybe not the power

Summary: This will be my 11th post in my ongoing campaign and blog series on InDRMpendence and DRM (Digital Restrictions Management) in just about as many business days (12 to be exact).

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TOPICS: Legal
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This will be my 11th post in my ongoing campaign and blog series on InDRMpendence and DRM (Digital Restrictions Management) in just about as many business days (12 to be exact).  In an effort to bring about change and alert as many people (see We the Sheeple) as possible to the reasons why they must stop co-conspiring to make the DRM problem worse than it already is (either directly through the purchase of DRMed content, or indirectly through apathy about a critical socio-political issue), my hope is to stay at or near this pace.  

The DRM problem is a two-dimensional one. On one vector lies the goals of DRM.  On the other lies the technology.  To the extent that DRM is designed to make sure that copyright holders can collect whatever fees they want (if they desire to do so), I do not object. Copyright holders are certainly entitled to charge what they want for their music and let the market decide, and if the content is good enough and the price is right, I'm happy to pay.  But, judging by reality (how DRM is being used), DRM's goal apparently doesn't stop there. Instead of managing my fair use rights to the content I'm paying for, it's restricting them.  Thus, the R in DRM is really for Restrictions, not Rights.  So, the goals of DRM need a global rethink (for example, do we really need it at all) and I'm not going to belabor that point any further in this blog entry. 

Secondary in my mind  (not by much) to the DRM goal vector is the technology vector. This is where Hollywood's need to protect its turf has turned into a gift from heaven for the technology companies that incessantly seek out market control points through the use of proprietary technologies.  To you, proprietary generally means one of two things.  Lack of compatibility or increased cost to get compatibility. Today, the different DRM technology makers are in a race to drive as much DRMed content  (DRMed with their different DRM technologies that is) into market as possible.  By doing so, they are securing the future of their playback technologies because you'll always need them to access your content.  In this context (driving DRMed content to market), Microsoft is the tortoise and Apple is the hare  The lion's share of the DRMed music  that's been driven into the market is saddled with Apple's FairPlay DRM technology and it looks like Steve Jobs and Company are way ahead of the game.  Meanwhile, while it may not have sold nearly as much DRMed content into the market, Microsoft is slowly and somewhat quietly setting itself up for a DRM penetration blitz that I think will shame the hare.  You're welcome to disagree.  Many people have.

More importantly, regardless of who wins, we lose.  When we addict ourselves to proprietary technologies,  we're setting ourselves up for another technology monoculture that deprives us of innovation and choice (not to mention the way it gives one or two companies far too much power to have their way with their competitors). If we must have DRM, then we should move to ameliorate the toll that proprietary DRM schemes will almost certainly take on our society (all forms of content -- not just music -- are at stake).  To do so requires that all parties involve agree to comply with an open, royalty-free, no patent strings attached standard.  Very few industry executives have talked this talk or walked this walk.  But, when I read what Sun president and COO Jonathan Schwartz said in his Aug 26 2005 blog entitled DReaM, the Open Media Commons and the Future of IP, I liked what I saw. Here's Schwartz making some key points more eloquently than I have:

  • Regarding the R in DRM going to far beyond "Rights" and morphing into "Restrictions" -DRM is useful, but not in the draconian or dictatorial forms that have been discussed. DRM, to us, is simply a security model for intellectual property. And just as accessing your bank account should be protected by a security layer, so should accessing your data - as just another form of intellectual property.
  • Regarding how a DRM monoculture can stifle innovation, foreclose on competition, and eliminate choice - I was with a large telecommunications customer recently, who told me how excited he was to be partnering with a movie studio to deliver first run movies on handsets - until his general counsel received notice from a patent authority claiming they had tripped over patents associated with their encoding and playback mechanisms. The licensing authority had asked for $1 per movie stream, or a percentage of their annual revenue. Which would effectively shutter the opportunity. In our view, the market wants the choice of not having to submit to such trolls and tollgates.  And therefore, we believe an effective DRM solution must be available to the world without royalty or patent risk. In order to ensure continued interoperability and freedom to reimplement, we also believe the solution should be available in open source form, under a files based license that in no way threatens to interfere with original ownership.
  • How a device monoculture leads to leads to channel control (of other peoples' businesses) - I was with the Chief Executive of a music company recently, who told me how thrilled he was to have a growing percentage of his revenues being derived from digital distribution. But there was one caveat - 95% of the digital distribution came through one vendor's product and service (guess which), the owner of which had let him know his royalty stream was being radically reduced, unilaterally, in a new contract. No negotiation. And therefore, we believe an effective DRM solution must be available to IP owners on all devices - not be hidebound to one.
  • On the right of copyright owners to charge for their content - IP owners should be in charge of how they monetize their IP. You have every right to choose the license under which you'll make your IP available. You have every right to monetize that asset as you see fit - and to control its distribution, if that's what you seek. I support the 4th amendment.

Of course, Schwartz & Co. at Sun have often found themselves on the short end of the monoculture stick more than once.  That's why he can speak so passionately about the subject while putting Sun's muscle into  programs like DReaM and the Open Media Commons (discussed in his blog).  And it's great to have someone at his level championing the least evil approach to something that is by its very nature, an evil issue (let's face it... if everyone was a Boy Scout on copyrighted content, we wouldn't be having this discussion). My concern is that Sun has a weaker hand on the DRM front (to disrupt the monoculture that we're racing towards) than it did say, on the single sign-on front where it played a role in derailing Microsoft's Passport before it turned into similar control mechanism (The potential to be that clearly existed. I'm not insinuating that Microsoft would have acted on it).  In some ways, DRM is a single sign on technology and from a market control standpoint, there are striking parallels between it and technologies like the old Passport to the extent that the technology paves the way for its owners to stretch their tentacles into the businesses of others. 

With Passport, very few people were deriving real value from its implementation.  The same cannot be said of today's primary DRM schemes.  Other than Sun's role with the telecommunications companies (eg: Java on their handsets) that represent an important distribution channel, I don't know that Sun has leverage it needs to upset the applecart.

Topic: Legal

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27 comments
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  • The problem with DRM is...

    The problem with DRM is that [b]nobody[/b] in the music/movie/DRM business is thinking about the end users.

    Until they start thinking about how to make end users happy then they're doomed to failure.

    Low prices and convenient downloads would do more for their bottom lines than any amount of DRM will.

    DRM only serves to hurt the honest users. It won't affect pirates in the slightest.
    figgle
    • Piracy is irrelevant

      ---It won't affect pirates in the slightest.---

      It's not meant to do anything about piracy. Haven't you been
      paying attention? It's there to set up a system of control, of taking
      away consumer rights, and of milking even more money out of
      your pocket. Piracy, pshaw.
      tic swayback
      • The content companies do care about piracy.

        Might refer to the response as an irrational hatred. But that's a form of caring.

        They also are trying to avoid being dragged into using the digital distribution channel. That's an irrational attitude, but it continues a tradition of rejecting new technology that dates back to player piano rolls.
        That, too, is a form of caring.

        If the companies do have to use digital distribution, and they're recognizing that they must, albeit very grudgingly, then they're going to be concerned about those control issues you mention.

        But if these issues make people reject digital distribution entirely, not becoming pirates, they'd be very pleased.
        Anton Philidor
    • Re: The problem with DRM is...

      I agree--I don't see how having an open source, royalty-free DRM mechanism really changes anything--if it restricts where or how I can listen to or view media I bought then it's no better than FairPlay and if it doesn't then it's of no value. In any case, it would be crackable (because all DRM mechanisms are crackable) and therefore essentially toothless. And in any case it wouldn't stop the pirates.

      So what's the point? To mollify the RIAA? Who cares?

      It's all so stupid. Why can't I just pay my 99 cents for a high-quality MP3 file? By using iTunes I've already demonstrated my willingness to pay a fair price for music.

      It wouldn't be quite so bad if CDs (those that aren't themselves DRMed) weren't twice the cost of the same songs on iTunes.

      As to why Apple hasn't worked harder to thwart JHymn--they have a significant motivation (or at least a measurable motivation) to allow JHymn to work, for the simple reason that people like me who want to do the right thing but want to have an MP3 file at the end of the day can really only work with iTunes (as far as I know nobody's done the equivalent of JHymn for DRMed WMA). This means that Apple has a competitive advantage precisely *because* FairPlay can be easily hacked.

      Cheers,

      Eliot
      drmacro
      • Single whammy vs. Double whammy

        You're right. With DRM, someone else (eg: the content owner) can arbitrarily set policies that affect how or when you can consumer their content. But, lack of open standards means that in addition to the content companies saying something like "that saved version of the Simpsons on your Tivo has expired," you have the DRM companies imposing additional restrictions on what devices you can consume your content on. Double whammy. I'd like to eliminate the double whammy altogether. But better to have a single than a double.

        db
        dberlind
        • Are you arguing Apple or Microsft set DRM policies?

          If so, the content companies have not been paying attention to what their DRM providers are doing to their products. Very slipshod business practice.

          The DRM providers are contractors supplying a product, with authority over functionality retained by the single buyer, no?!

          Yes, FairPlay is limited to Apple and Microsoft's DRM is not able to play with Apple. But if the content companies are setting consistent DRM requirements, then both pieces of software have the same effect.

          If the content companies are setting inconsistent DRM requirements, then they are favoring one supplier over another, to the (minor) extent that DRM influences public purchasing decisions.

          The authority belongs to the content companies, and so does the blame.
          Anton Philidor
    • DRM and Product Activation...

      "DRM only serves to hurt the honest users. It won't affect pirates in the slightest."

      This statement reminds me of a large aspect of Product Activation. I had done a debate on this in college, and one argument that had come up over the course of the debate was that it was not really intended to go after pirates (since in any case, they'd find a way to get around it anyway); it was intended to halt the guy who installs Office XP (as an example) at work and wants to install it at home as well. In other words, the people who might conceivably purchase the item otherwise.

      It's pretty much another case of laws only affecting the law-abiding. Such is life, I guess.
      Third of Five
    • But...

      [b]The problem with DRM is that nobody in the music/movie/DRM business is thinking about the end users.[/b]

      Not true. They're thinking of the means to keep the "herd" moving in one direction - getting them to buy more and more of their DRMwared product.

      [b]Until they start thinking about how to make end users happy then they're doomed to failure.[/b]

      Yeah... And exactly how much of a failure is iPod/iTunes? Sales are up this past year.

      [b]DRM only serves to hurt the honest users. It won't affect pirates in the slightest.[/b]

      True. Pirates will simply find/create means to crack the encryption and at that point, it's all over and done with.

      Of course, this does raise another possibility. When/if people get fed up with DRM, it will, no doubt, force more people into becoming "pirates."
      Wolfie2K3
  • I don't disagree, but...

    The statement below is laughable (unfortunately). Never in a million years, with Microsoft in the mix at least, will this ever, EVER happen. This company is hard-core, we control it or we don't play. Never happen.

    "To do so requires that all parties involve agree to comply with an open, royalty-free, no patent strings attached standard. "

    And yes, I realize Jobs is no better right now.
    BitTwiddler
  • Can a no-royalty approach to DRM be found?

    If any patent holder on essential technology refuses to sacrifice the financial advantages of his patent, then the ideal discussed in the commentary is impossible to achieve.

    With all the current interest in identifying old and valuable patents and in obtaining new patents, I think there's a reasonable question about whether royalty-free is possible.
    Anton Philidor
    • "All parties" are the content companies.

      The technology companies would have no way to sell their DRM products if there were no buyers.

      The difference between Apple and Microsoft is, Apple attaches the required DRM to their own products only, now at least, while Microsoft will provide for any product.

      (Apple would presumably not bother with DRM if it weren't mandated. So the content companies still have ultimate authority.)

      So long as the content companies are buyers who determine the functionality of their purchase, they are the only ones to be considered.
      Anton Philidor
  • The Problem With DRM Haters

    Is that they tend to be nerdy, computer geeks who have no artistic worth and are the tip of the spear at least in terms of illegal music, movies, etc. downloading that takes place on the Internet. That being said, this leaves a situation where their perspective is driven more from the DRM restricts me than from the rights of the content / copyright owner.

    Sure one has always had the ability to make illegal copies of cassettes, CDs, DVD, or even bound books and sell them. And China as an example has done a bang up job with being that tip at the end of the spear with this issue. But digital content changed the rules of the game, and then the Internet eliminated an notion of rules.

    In the end it comes down to an individual's respect for the content owner's property rights. Seeing as how China has precious little laws and cultural history upholding property rights, it's no wonder they're at the center of the illegal trading of brick and morter copies of content, software etc.

    DRM for all it current limitations is simply an attempt to level the playing field and of course create monopolies which by the way is exactly what's going on in the Blue-ray vs. HD-DVD battle. It's all about money; who has it, and who pays it.

    And to the turd who said any DRM scheme is breakable, it appears for now M$' DRM technology has faired pretty well. I don't remember the specifics, but I think M$ has only had one significant coding flaw that they have already patched. Sure it was broken to a degree, but to this day, I don't think it's wide ass open to being circumvented.
    jjworleyeoe
    • DRM is always breakable

      It's a fact of cryptography. The attacker and the intended user are one and the same, and it's done on general purpose equipment. You can't completely protect against that.
      rpmyers1
      • Send me any file and I'll send back the mp3

        [i]WMA isn't broken....[/i]

        I can convert any WMA file to mp3.

        And I don't mean by analogue recording, I mean a perfect digital copy.
        figgle
    • Oh dear, where to start....

      ---The Problem With DRM Haters
      Is that they tend to be nerdy, computer geeks who have no artistic worth---

      So you're calling the Foo Fighters, Switchfoot, the Dave Matthews band and even Sony BMG "nerdy computer geeks"?
      http://www.cnn.com/2005/TECH/ptech/10/04/music.copy.reut/

      Elvis Costello I could see...
      http://www.sciencefictiontwin.com/blog/2004/09/elvis-costello-on-anti-piracy.asp

      Bjork maybe...
      http://unit.bjork.com/specials/albums/medulla/pirate/index.htm

      But not Wilco
      http://www.wired.com/news/culture/0,1284,65688,00.html


      ---In the end it comes down to an individual's respect for the content owner's property rights.---

      This is certainly important, but it must be part of a balance. Go read what the Constitution says about copyright. It establishes a temporary monopoly as a means of encouraging further achievement, and it's meant to serve the public interest. When copyright is used to harm the public interest, then there's a problem. One side is not holding up their side of the bargain. Why should consumers respect the rights of record companies when those same companies do not respect the (codified into law) rights of the consumers?

      ---And to the turd who said any DRM scheme is breakable, it appears for now M$' DRM technology has faired pretty well.---

      Really?

      Did you read this:
      http://home.wanadoo.nl/lc.staak/freeme.htm

      Or this:
      http://www.theregister.co.uk/2001/10/19/ms_digital_rights_management_scheme/

      Or this:
      http://news.zdnet.co.uk/internet/security/0,39020375,39188216,00.htm

      ---Sure it was broken to a degree, but to this day, I don't think it's wide ass open to being circumvented.---

      And that's the big problem with DRM. It doesn't need to be widely broken for everyone. All it takes is one person with one cracked file that puts it up for download. Then that DRM investment was a complete and utter waste of money.
      tic swayback
      • Oh dear, how to retort

        Remind these artists that they should not resign with their current DRM loving labels upon expiration of their current contracts.

        Um. I did not state that I agreed completely with today's level of fair use rights. I think what I did say was that DRM is as much about re-leveling the playing field as it does with taking your rights away as a consumer. The problem is the inconsistent implementation of what various record labels consider to be fair use.

        Here's a good example. Today, flash and hard drive digital audio players have become vastly more popular that CD-ROM based players. Five years ago as DRM was really starting to lift off, this wasn't the case. At that time, five CD burns seemed to be pretty eggregious fair use, considering one could easily burn a new copy of a disk every month or say as you digital audio content grew. Today however, five CD burns is more than enough for use as a consumer to burn a backup and maybe a couple to do somethig one-off with.

        The last time I checked the songs I'm purchasing from MSN Music, I'm allowed to copy my DRM wrapped songs as many times as I want to my personal audio device(s). To date, my biggest grip against DRM is what to do if my system crashes. I can backup my files, but you can't backup your license files. I recently sent MSN Music support an e-mail asking how I would go about doing this. Well, the reply e-mail came in the next day, and it's not a simple 1-2-3 deal. As you can imagine, one has to jump through many hoops to get back up and running.

        Personnally, I think in time DRM will be made better at meeting fair use needs and will continue to gain acceptance in the market place. And please I didn't say M$ DRM was unbreakable, but I stated it wasn't wide ass open. After reviewing your posts, the Feb 2005 fixes for M$' DRM was to plug theoretical holes. Unlike IE, WMP's DRM has been pretty solid over the last four years. With the upcoming lock boxes being built into chips, I'm sure the breaking will get even tougher but not theoretically immpossible.
        jjworleyeoe
        • You seem to have a lot of faith in the RIAA and MPAA

          ---Remind these artists that they should not resign with their
          current DRM loving labels upon expiration of their current
          contracts---

          Many of them won't, or will negotiate deals where such things
          are under their control. Look at Wilco, who got dumped from
          their record label and used non-DRMed downloads to build a
          bigger following and signed to another label under much more
          favorable terms. Glad to see you recognize that we're not all
          nerds at least.

          ---I think what I did say was that DRM is as much about re-
          leveling the playing field as it does with taking your rights away
          as a consumer---

          I don't buy this for a second. There are much better ways to
          stop the real pirates who are costing them real money. No, this
          is about controlling what you can and can't do with your
          purchase. It's about you paying every time you listen to a song,
          every time you want to play a song in a different location. It's
          not about fairness, it's about greed.

          ---Today however, five CD burns is more than enough for use
          as a consumer to burn a backup and maybe a couple to do
          somethig one-off with.---

          More than enough for who? What if I make a lot of mixed cd's to
          listen to in the car? Now I only get to make five? What am I
          being offered in return for this reduced functionality? How
          about a massive break on the price? Nope, online songs cost
          more than buying the cd, with price increases on the way.
          You're paying more and getting less. Sound fair to you?

          Or look at TiVO. All the people who signed a contract have now
          had the rug pulled out from under them. The terms have been
          changed and the device is nowhere near as useful as they were
          promised it would be when they signed on. Again, what do they
          get in return for this loss of function? Where's the fairness for
          them?

          ---Personnally, I think in time DRM will be made better at
          meeting fair use needs and will continue to gain acceptance in
          the market place---

          Personally, I think greed will make the media companies push
          things way too far, and cracking and piracy will become even
          more accepted than they are now.

          ---I didn't say M$ DRM was unbreakable, but I stated it wasn't
          wide ass open. ---

          That's all that matters. One tiny crack means it's useless. Game
          over, you've wasted your money.
          tic swayback
    • "and create monopolies..." = precisely the problem

      quote: "DRM for all it current limitations is simply an attempt to level the playing field and of course create monopolies"

      Unfortunately, DRM does a lot more than level the playing field, it actually builds a mountain at one end of the field, on top of which sit a handful of rich, powerful companies... the monopolies you mentioned.

      Let me make this easy. I will use Apple to represent the evil monopoly, but in reality there would be a handful. Here's the breakdown:

      -Apple decides to sell music protected with DRM (via iTunes or some other medium).
      -The RIAA is thrilled and ensures that only Apple gets to sell that music.
      -Consumers, wanting new music, have to purchase from Apple.
      -Consumers, wanting to listen to this new music, have to purchase devices that can decode the Apple DRM protection.
      -Apple, being the owner of the DRM protection technology, gets to decide exactly which companies it wants to give this technology too so that they can build the above devices required by consumers. Of course, Apple will be sure they own or have interests in these companies. Maybe its Toshiba's lucky day, or perhaps RCA, but everyone else is out of business overnight.
      -Meanwhile, not only are prices going up on the devices (since there is less competition), but Apple is starting to change the deal on music. You now have to spend $1.50 if you want a song that you can play whenever, but if you only pay $0.50 you can have the song for a month. Who wants a song you can only play for a month?? Some do I guess, but for those who have collections, the price just went up $0.50 a song!

      Alright. Now we're at a point where consumers are actually going to respond. They'll say to Apple we don't want to pay that much! So maybe its not all bad pricewise. However, with fewer manufacturer's, their is still going to be a lot less innovation and features.

      Additionally, this is just music. DRM effects music, movies, television, office documents, and basically anything else you can create on your computer. The control/power we give up to "level the playing field" is waaayyy too much.
      Feldon
    • Re: The Problem With DRM Haters

      [i]In the end it comes down to an individual's respect for the content owner's property rights.[/i]

      That's a two-way street, no? When movie studios stop interfering with your right to view your legally purchased DVD in whatever country you happen to be in...

      When Adobe, among others, stop putting DRM restrictions on public domain works...

      Then they can take the moral high ground. Until then, it's just war by other means.



      :)
      none none
    • The problem with DRM lovers

      [i]Is that they tend to be nerdy, computer geeks who have no artistic worth and are the tip of the spear at least in terms of illegal music, movies, etc.[/i]

      Or maybe it's that the normals don't see the real problem with DRM. When/if it becomes widespread they might start complaining too.

      [i]And to the turd who said any DRM scheme is breakable, it appears for now M$' DRM technology has faired pretty well[/i]

      Is there anything worth having in MSDRM format that isn't easily available without it? As soon as there's enough incentive it will be cracked...
      figgle