OK Go and DRM

by on August 16, 2006 · 10 comments

Adam’s right that OK Go’s music videos are awesome. You can check out other music videos here. “Invincible” is particularly good.

So I clicked over to OK Go’s blog and I saw this post urging readers to jump over to VH1’s site to vote for “Here it Goes Again” (the video Adam linked to yesterday) on VH1’s Top 20 music countdown. I did as I was told, and clicked on the link on VH1’s site to watch the video on “VSpot,” VH1’s free music video site. Instead of treadmill-video goodness, I was confronted with this helpful message:

We are sorry! Vspot does not currently have Digital Rights Management (DRM) support for Macintosh. Please see our FAQ for system requirements to view on demand and free video on Vspot.

The FAQ says:

The videos on Vspot are encoded using the Microsoft Windows Media 9 codec to ensure the maximum possible video quality. In order to offer you a broad selection of full-length music videos on-demand and free of charge, Vspot uses Windows Digital Rights Management (DRM) to protect the videos from unauthorized re-distribution. Unfortunately, Microsoft’s Windows Media Player Plug-in for Macintosh does not currently support DRM. When DRM support becomes available for Macintosh, Vspot will work to support Macintosh.

This is simply absurd. The video is available for download in unencumbered format from OK Go’s video site, as well as available on YouTube. So it’s not obvious who they’re trying to prevent from seeing it.

Indeed, the whole point of a music video is publicity. Bands make music videos so they’ll be played on MTV (and now the Internet), thereby driving sales of their songs. Hence, OK Go probably wants as much “unauthorized redistribution” as possible, because that means more people find out about the band and might buy their music.

The presence of DRM in this case hurts everyone: it hurts OK Go by reducing the number of people who will learn about their music. It hurts VH1, whose website is made less useful to potential visitors. And it hurts Mac users, who are excluded from using the site.

DRM advocates like to talk about how DRM reduces transaction costs for fine-grained transactions, thus enabling economically efficient price discrimination. But I think this sort of problem illustrates the flaw in this argument: the control provided by DRM isn’t so fine-grained in practice. Because of the nature of what DRM is trying to do, denying access has to be its default action. That means that if your particular operating system, device, or transaction wasn’t contemplated by the DRM designers, you’re just out of luck. As a result, a lot of mutually beneficial transactions are prevented, to everyone’s detriment.

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