The coming tech market anarchy.

Read first:
Blu-Ray AND HD-DVD broken – processing keys extracted
to understand:
Digg users revolt over AACS key

This whole copyright and DRM all reminds me of the 1995 Bruce Sterling novel, Heavy Weather. While not the best written novel, he describes a near-future America of revolutionary copyright anarchy (in both senses of the word–chaos and lack of regulation.) And Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash in which a near-future America has become an ultra-libertarian market anarchy (in just the economic sense, mainly) and data has by and large become money.

I’m of two minds. I agree with author and electronic rights advocate, Cory Doctorow exclaims that DRM is fundamentally a farce. It’s not even a speed-bump on the path to the inevitable–that being a not too distant reality where we’ll be able to buy $100 hard-drives the size of a lighter that will fit the entire world’s collection of music and movies and TV shows. He says, bits [data] will never get any harder to copy than it is right now. There is no stopping the free exchange of data, and it’s only going to get easier. As in the article above, it took years to come up with an “effective” DRM system for HD disks, and it was cracked within days.

And who’s paying the costs? The legal consumers of media. People who legally buy DVD’s have to suffer through warnings they can’t skip (hey! I BOUGHT the DVD! Why are you warning ME?!) and sometimes trailers you can’t skip (rare, but I’ve had a couple DVD’s that totally irked me off.) Meanwhile, the people who didn’t legally buy the movie aren’t affected at all by that krahrp.

Specific example: I subscribed to Napster for a month. I was able to download tons of music–it was great! Except, it was in .WMA format and my wife’s iPod no-likee WMA. So I tried to convert them to MP3’s–and the DRM wouldn’t allow me, basically preventing me from using music I purchased to be playable on the component of my choice. When I tried to use a 20 second sample of it for a radio-call-in contest, the DRM prevented me from making any edits. People who pirate the music instead of paying for it have no such “broken by design” problems. If I wanted to, I could have VERY easily downloaded any number of products online that would have allowed me to remove the DRM and use the music file on another device or use a legally allowed less-than 30 second music clip for the purpose of a radio contest. So, why bother with DRM?

But the other half of my mind (being able to see both sides of an issue really sucks sometimes. Sometime it’d be nice to be able to see something as black-or-white and latch onto one side unequivocally,) I can see that if there’s no effort to protect the manufacturer/producer of an item you’re just opening the door to allow people to easily use something well beyond its intent. Producers do have a right of intent of use. They have a right to be paid fairly for their work. If I wrote a piece of software that took time and effort, I would like to have just compensation, I would not want people pirating and stealing my effort. If I decide I want to sell my song to someone, I should be able to say “I’d like for you to just be able to use this as much as you like but please don’t share it” and be expected to have the wish complied with. I produce something, I deserve just compensation.

But I guess the question comes down to what is “just compensation.” In the music industry, the artist who creates the music, if they don’t own their own studio and record company, not only doesn’t make any money from their record sales but often owes the record company for making and selling their music. The houses and cars and lifestyles the famous stars buy are either because they’re rare exceptions with enough clout to bargain better deals, or they’re spending the advance they’re given for their next album, which will still need to be paid off–creating an cycle of debt to the record company. When you buy a CD, you’re pretty much paying the RIAA CEO’s and shareholders.
This is why you’re seeing a lot more people like Jonathan Coulton bypassing the record industry and using the Internet to market their music. I’m more than willing to pay an artist directly for their efforts! I would consider stealing Brittney Spears music (GAG! ICK! but I’m making a point…) but wouldn’t pirate Coulton’s music.

So, the piracy and trading isn’t going to go away. In fact, seeing as how money is actually just data with no real concrete value (the US dollar hasn’t been based on gold reserves since the 1930’s,) it wouldn’t be surprising to see data itself becoming currency. So what’s the solution? The MPAA and RIAA and other corporations seem to think the answer is to make things harder and more annoying for the legitimate consumer–with a result of driving some of them to piracy and most of them just simply annoyed at your company. What kind of brilliant marketing strategy is it to get your customers P.O.ed at you?!

I don’t know the answer. As a consumer I’m cheesed off to no end when something I buy is intentionally made more annoying and harder to use. I also see stealing is wrong, and some reasons to do so are just justifications for behavior. But I can also see the future can not be held back, and the entire concept of data ownership and usage may have to be drastically altered, changing the definition of what “stealing” is in these cases. It’s going to be a very interesting next few years….