Cory vs DRM

Cory Doctrow posts a delicious rant against Wired’s review policy here. Unfortunately, he fails to stress what I think is the a point. Wired is writing reviews. Those reviews are supposed to be impartial. Whatever you may think about DRM, it is clearly an important mis-feature of a product which you may buy. Informed reviewers, such as those at Wired(?) ought to talk about it in every review they write. That they don’t, that they follow Chris Anderson’s “but nothing I care about that I can’t work around in one way or another” directive, convinces me to look elsewhere for reviews. To be fair, Chris also says “[Wired] Test and the rest of our reviews do take points off for intrusive DRM when we encounter it.” However, as Cory points out, DRM can be explicitly designed so that a reviewer does not encounter it. It can be a six or twelve month time bomb in a product. A reviewer ought to be investigating such things.

Cory’s rant closes:


WARNING: THIS DEVICE’S FEATURES ARE SUBJECT TO REVOCATION WITHOUT NOTICE, ACCORDING TO TERMS SET OUT IN SECRET NEGOTIATIONS. YOUR INVESTMENT IS CONTINGENT ON THE GOODWILL OF THE WORLD’S MOST PARANOID, TECHNOPHOBIC ENTERTAINMENT EXECS. THIS DEVICE AND DEVICES LIKE IT ARE TYPICALLY USED TO CHARGE YOU FOR THINGS YOU USED TO GET FOR FREE — BE SURE TO FACTOR IN THE PRICE OF BUYING ALL YOUR MEDIA OVER AND OVER AGAIN. AT NO TIME IN HISTORY HAS ANY ENTERTAINMENT COMPANY GOTTEN A SWEET DEAL LIKE THIS FROM THE ELECTRONICS PEOPLE, BUT THIS TIME THEY’RE GETTING A TOTAL WALK. HERE, PUT THIS IN YOUR MOUTH, IT’LL MUFFLE YOUR WHIMPERS.

PS: Does that “nothing I care about” line remind anyone else of a Potter Stewart-like failure to provide a crisp test?

[Update: Cory posts again, responding to the claim that the market will sort it out without reviewers mentioning DRM.]

8 thoughts on “Cory vs DRM

  1. Cory seems to ignore the companies’ interests in keeping their customers happy. It’s profoundly wrong to believe that companies are sitting around rubbing their hands together and chortling as they come up with new ways to screw their customers. There’s a thing called competition. Companies which don’t care about their customers tend to go out of business. Every company I’ve ever worked for lives in a constant state of terror that their customers are going to switch over to the competition. This is what will keep DRM reasonable and keep companies from doing things that their customers hate.

  2. You’re right, and this is why the movie companies formed the Copy Control Association. Its to act as a cartel, ensure that all movies have the same DRM, and to stifle competition.

  3. Adam nails it: these DRMs are being mandated by “consortia” like the DVB, DVD-CCA and CPTWG where, in secret, all of the studios sit down with the CE and IT people and demand minimum levels of customer-unfriendly DRM. I attend these meetings. The CE people win NO concessions.
    Here’s an example from DVD: the studios’ DVD-CCA cartel demands that all DVD players honor a “no-skip” function to keep you from fast-forwarding a movie or part of a movie. In theory, this is to ensure that you watch the FBI warning — insulting enough — but in practice, the studios use it to force you to watch previews and commercials. The CE people who sold you the DVD players can’t provide you with a player that will let you skip these commercials on the DVDs you’ve paid good money for, or they will violate their contract with the cartel.
    Some studio execs sat down and decided that they should be able to control how you watch the movies you buy, on your own player, in your own home, and strong-armed the CE people into helping them accomplish this. The CE people only went along with this because the studios promised them that anyone who brought out a better device — e.g., one that could skip commercials — would be sued out of existence.
    That’s the competitive marketplace the CE companies inhabit: one in which they are promised that any device better than the crappy ones they’re being ordered to build will be criminalized.

  4. Cory’s no-skip example actually shows competition in action. When DVDs first came out they did indeed often use that function to force people to watch previews. People hated it! Nobody wanted to sit through those.
    And what happened? Competition happened. Studios found they could sell more disks when people don’t hate the product. Wow, who would have thought it?
    Today, nobody does that any more. I haven’t seen a disk in years that made me sit through the previews and disabled the skip button. Think of it as evolution in action. Competition works.
    And BTW, nothing stops a studio from releasing a disk without CCA encryption on it. But there’s no reason to, at present; such a disk wouldn’t sell any more than one without it.

  5. So why haven’t the studios released CCA-free DVDs that are easily backed up? Do their executives prefer the consumers buy another copy of dvds when their kids scratch them? Is there no consumer anger over that?
    I’ve seen several DVDs that disabled the skip function. One had a scratch there, and I couldn’t get out of full screen mode or the skip. I had to reboot my computer.

  6. I’ll give you $50 if any of the DVDs on today’s top ten U.S. sales chart have skip functions disabled on their previews, if they even have previews (nowadays most of them put coming attractions in a separate menu item, if they have it at all). Let me know which one it is, if you find one that forces you to watch the previews.

  7. Its an interesting offer, but since I don’t really watch a lot of movies, it would be annoying to check. If any readers want to post a movie, I’ll pass the cash to them.

  8. I have a lot of DVDs for my kid. We bought one at the end of 2003, ‘Rudolph & The Island of Misfit Toys’ by Goodtimes Entertainment. You are forced to watch previews. Every time you insert the disc. Needless to say, we don’t own any other DVDs by Goodtimes.
    I don’t think this DVD is in the U.S. ‘top ten’ (its probably not in a ‘top anything’). But, it proves a point. DRM doesn’t work. It even annoys my two-year old.

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