Right Symptoms, Wrong Diagnosis

by on May 20, 2006 · 4 comments

David Levine points out a post from James DeLong last week in which he identifies a real problem but comes up with a peculiar diagnosis:

Once of the risks of the P2P culture’s ethics–“it’s our music and we have a right to steal it”–is that consumers will end up worse off. Content creators, to obtain any return on their investment of time, energy, and money, will be forced to partner with particular hardware makers or distributors and tightly tether content to the specific channel. The result would be a loss of flexibility and interoperability.

You mean, like, the iTunes Music Store, which won’t work with non-Apple devices? Or Google’s video store, CinemaNow, Moviebeam, and MovieLink, none of which will easily play videos on an ordinary HDTV?

Every DRM scheme works by “tightly tethering” content to a specific platform. A few of them, such as CSS and Microsoft’s Windows Media, at least allow some third party licensees under the tent, but every single one of them contributes to “a loss of flexibility and interoperability.” DRM is the reason that you can’t play DVDs on an iPod, or iTunes songs on high-end stereo systems.

It’s not clear to me what DeLong thinks we ought to do about the growing balkanization of media technologies. As far as I can see, we’re currently trying all of the anti-piracy measures he supports: the courts are shutting down Grokster and company, we have the DMCA on the books, and the recording industry is suing thousands of individuals engaged in file sharing. If, after all of that, we see continued balkanization of media technologies, might that be a sign that our approach is wrong?

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