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Looking at DRM through a Non-CRAP Prism

by / Wednesday, 20 September 2006 / Published in Industry News, Technology & eCommerce

The focus on digital rights management software not should be viewed only through the prism of greedy copyright owners playing digital dictator. True enough, there are numerous well founded gripes about the state of DRM and the patchwork of control mechanisms that frustrate and undermine the enjoyment of many a title (see ZDNET’s editor talk about DRM as “CRAP.”) However, the overall concept of managing rights through hardware as opposed to business models may warrant frank discussion. In particular as the traditional theatre to DVD/ancillary trajectory is compressed and challenged (when was the last time you were eagerly awaiting the arrival of the DVD after seeing the move in theatres?), the role of DRM becomes critical.

Where the consumer has the final say on the how’s and when’s of seeing a movie through various home devices, DRM may play a pivotal role in shaping that culture. For the economics of such a system to work the provision of content cannot be utterly unrestricted. It is important to recognize that the content industries cannot simply TIVO or DVD everything without going bankrupt. Yet with the promise of video on demand through the Internet, TIVO, etc., that is exactly what is happening.

In the absence of limitations imposed by business models, DRM may fill the void. For example, as release windows shrink, experiments with overlapping windows must rely on DRM. A release window with an unrestricted DVD simultaneously available with the film in theatres would likely result in a zero sum game. The DVD would likely sap the theatrical release of viewers. However, a theatrical release in conjunction with a restricted DVD, one that plays for only a week, can exploit two distinct audiences and promote the film for subsequent releases, such as pay TV and unrestricted DVD’s. In addition, the appeal and price point of an unrestricted DVD will be preserved allowing consumers who want that experience the opportunity to have it.

This concept has attracted the interest of groups other than the industry juggernauts typically associated with DRM, such as Sony and Microsoft. The UK Film Group, for example, has recently opined on the close relationship between DRM and the changing world of film distribution. They argue for a deep exploration of DRM’s application in the future. Hopefully they have a balanced approach that can serve as a real model.

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