An article yesterday on ZDNet described some of the content protections Microsoft is building into Windows Vista (a.k.a. the Operating System formerly known as "Longhorn"). Quoting from the article:
For the first time, the Windows operating system will wall off some audio and video processes almost completely from users and outside programmers, in hopes of making them harder for hackers to reach. The company is establishing digital security checks that could even shut off a computer's connections to some monitors or televisions if antipiracy procedures that stop high-quality video copying aren't in place.
My support for DRM is already well-established, but in summary, I want Joe Guitar Player to compose music in his garage and make money from it, even if he only finds 5000 people around the world who are willing to pay. That makes DRM the friend of the little guy (well, little producer), and that's why I support Microsoft's effort to put content protections deep into Windows Vista.
From a market standpoint, though, Microsoft understands that content companies are the ones who will decide how their content gets released. Content companies want protections, since their bread is buttered through licensed use of the content they create. Microsoft, therefore, is offering an end-to-end digital solution that offers content companies those protections, the culmination of which (at least on the desktop) comes with the release of Vista.
It seems a simple equation. Others missed it for business (Apple is too dependent on sale of its own hardware to develop the spread necessary of a true media ecosystem) or ideological (open source proponents get hives when they think about DRM) reasons. I think it's fair to say, though, that if Microsoft's media juggernaut is as unstoppable as David Berlind has been claiming, Microsoft's competitors have no one to blame but themselves.
Some may think that whether or not Microsoft succeeds in luring content companies to its formats, it won't make much difference because of the amount of media that is already available in "unprotected" format (DVDs are practically unprotected due to the existence of DeCSS). Content companies have a few trump cards, though.
First, DVDs are about to seem as dated as black and white movies. High-Definition, or HD, is the wave of the future, and makes Standard Definition, or SD, look like television as viewed through a storm cloud. People will want their movies in HD, and that's the choke point that will drive consumers to DRM-protected digital media.
Digital music, on the other hand, doesn't have such a quality improvement waiting down the road. On the other hand, who wants to confine themselves to old music. Okay, I have some friends who think the 80s were the ultimate in musical perfection, but I'm not one of those people, and given that there's always a younger generation seeking what is new, I think stronger DRM protections on NEW music are enough to force people to use DRM.
Of course, people can still choose to release unprotected digital media, just as people can choose to add to the "digital commons" through the creation of open source software. All DRM does is give content creators a choice. They now can choose to restrict how their creation is used by others through use of strong DRM technology. Just as balance between open source and proprietary software harvests the productive output of multiple categories of innovators, the presence of DRM and non-DRMed media boost the collective creative output of humanity.
That is a good thing. Granted, the fun of "trading" music over the internet might lose a bit of steam, but that had to be a temporary state of affairs. The presence of music "trading" is a symptom of an industry unprepared for the digital age.
They are no longer unprepared. Prepare for the coming of DRM.