Then and Now

by on May 9, 2006

Patrick Ross has a good post about the Warner Bros. announcement that they’d be distributing their content via BitTorrent:

Kudos to Warner Bros. for working out distribution of movies on BitTorrent. The BitTorrent technology truly is amazing, but unfortunately like so many new technologies in the digital world it was quickly embraced by those disrespectful of intellectual property before legitimate market forces could move in. Kudos also to the folks behind BitTorrent for working with studios to help its service respect artists’ rights.

That said, I won’t be using this new service, although I purchase Warner Bros. movies (I own all 4 Harry Potter DVDs). I want to watch movies on my TV, not my computer, and so far Warner Bros. is doing the same thing you find with the movie download services; recording permitted only onto DVD for backup, and the DVD can only be played on the original computer. The motion picture industry needs to move in the direction of the recording industry, which licenses services that permit the downloading of songs and the transfer of those songs onto other devices, including CDs.

I wonder if Ross realizes that the ease with which consumers can transfer their music between devices is primarily the result of the fact that the CD was invented before the advent of DRM technology. The recording industry did their best to outlaw the MP3 player, but that effort failed because without DRM on CDs, the DMCA didn’t apply. Once consumers got used to being able to play their music on the device of their choice, Steve Jobs realized that he had to provide similar functionality in order to get consumers to buy music online. The music industry didn’t give consumers that freedom on purpose, they were dragged kicking and screaming into doing so.

How would history been different if the industry had prevailed in Diamond? Although the recording industry would have eventually gotten around to licensing MP3 players, I think it’s hard to deny that the pace of innovation would have been hampered. The increasingly balkanized video marketplace gives us a hint of how the music marketplace would have evolved had the RIAA won. Hollywood is so terrified of piracy that they’ve failed to license any video-download services that actually give consumers what they want: an affordable, hassle-free way to watch content on their TVs. Hollywood will come to its senses eventually, but consumers will suffer from a depressed pace of innovation in the meantime.

Personally, I don’t think Ross should have to get anyone’s permission to watch he’s purchased on his TV. He should be able to download a conversion tool that would allow him to burn the movies onto a DVD for watching with any DVD player. Not only would that be extremely convenient for Ross and others like him, but it would also likely make the home video device market more innovative, as consumer electronics firms would have the freedom to build devices that use video content in new ways, just as the first MP3 players did to audio content in the late 1990s. Sadly, such devices are illegal under the DMCA, so we’ll probably never know what we’re missing.

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