We’ve all heard that the five stages of grief are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. It seems to me that Hollywood is going through a similar process with respect to the slow-motion train wreck that is digital rights management. When I started writing about DRM policy a couple of years ago, we were somewhere between the denial (“sure, CSS got cracked in a matter of months, but MovieLink and CinemaNow will save us!”) and anger (“If we tighten the screws a little bit more, those damn consumers will pay up!”) stages. Now, we’re starting to see signs that they’ve moved to the bargaining stage. Techdirt notes an article that suggests MPAA CTO Brad Hunt at least recognizes that they’ve got a problem:
During a question and answer session after the talk, Hunt conceded that many people already are frustrated at having to buy multiple copies of the same content to use on different commercial devices. “I understand that if we frustrate the consumer, they will simply pirate the content,” he said. “The issue we face today is that consumers are buying content that uses specific DRM and that, in turn, is gradually creating a world of separate DRM systems.” Hunt said the MPAA recognized the need to create an interoperability DRM solution (or, a DRM ecosystem as he described it) and said that “the consumer, if he or she has already purchased licensed material, should certainly be able to transfer that content to any other new or old device.”
So they’re in the bargaining stage: “OK, consumers hate the current crop of DRM, but if we roll out a kinder, gentler DRM with better interoperability, then consumers will jump on board!” The problem, of course, is that the lack of interoperability in the current generation of DRM formats isn’t a fluke. As I’ve argued before, interoperable DRM is a contradiction in terms. DRM technologies will always be plagued by compatibility problems, because they’re designed to restrict compatibility to approved devices.
Still, recognizing that you have a problem is the first step toward fixing it. It will probably take Hollywood a few more years to realize that all DRM is bad–that companies promoting “open” DRM schemes are selling snake-oil–but at least they’re taking the problem seriously. It’s only a matter of time before they move onto the stages of depression and, finally, acceptance. Then, maybe they’ll finally start tackling the difficult job of building online video systems that cater to the needs of their paying customers rather than treating them like criminals.