The Wall Street journal has a debate between Fritz Attaway of the MPAA and law professor Wendy Seltzer about digital rights management. Frankly, I think Attaway needs a remedial course in reading comprehension. In her first post, Seltzer points to several examples of video innovations that are stifled by the DMCA: excerpting video content, playing DVDs on Linux computers, and building a video jukebox. Attaway responds by stating that there is “absolutely no evidence to support” the assertion that the DMCA stifles innovation. Well, what about the three examples that Seltzer just offered? Are those not evidence?
Seltzer tries again, pointing out that DRM will prevent consumers from using their legally purchased content in new ways. In the past, she pointed out, the creators of new devices like VCRs and TiVo’s didn’t have to ask permission before they were allowed to deploy their devices.
Attaway responds with a non-sequitur: “I think we are getting to the philosophical heart of the issue. You want to be able to take for free the intellectual property others invested their time, talent and money to create.” Nothing in Seltzer’s post said anything of the sort. She’s plainly talking about the freedom to make creative uses of a DVD or other media that one has legally purchased. Yet Attaway, bizarrely, seems to believe that if we allow people to play DVDs on their Linux computers, that people will stop buying DVDs.
I think the fundamental disagreement here is one about technology, not philosophy. Attaway believes that the flaws and restrictions imposed by DRM are temporary–kinks that will be worked out as more sophisticated technology is developed. If that were true, Attaway’s argument would have some merit. But the reality is just the opposite: as the media world becomes more complex, the flaws of DRM will only become more glaring. DRM is technological central planning. Centrally planned economies become less efficient as they grow more complex. For precisely the same reasons, centrally planned technologies perform worse as they become more complex.