I can copy my MP3, why not my DVD?

by on January 12, 2009 · 27 comments

Apple has announced it will be dropping DRM, completing the transition from its DRM-Free-For-a-Fee model to one where DRM music isn’t an option. As Ars reports, it’ll take until August to see all DRM’d content leave the iTunes store.

This seems to be the final stage in a trasition that started in February of 2007.  That’s when Steve Jobs wrote his now famous “Thoughts on Music” memo.  Since then we’ve seen Amazon.com open it’s DRM free store and, more recently, the RIAA change its tactics and declare its war on downloaders over.  It seems that the music industry is slowly realizing how it must adapt to life in a digital world.

While music is learning its lesson, Hollywood seems to be willfully ignorant.  The major studios remain staunchly pro-DRM and continue to fight even those activities that should be perfectly legal.

Viacom, Sony, Fox, Universal, Disney, and Warner Bros. law suit against RealNetworks is the latest example of Hollywood’s refusal to adapt.  The studios are up in arms over RealDVD—software that allows consumers to copy DVDs to their personal computers.  But RealNetworks CEO Chief Executive Rob Glaser seems determine to fight the Hollywood giants.

As the Associated Press reports:

In an interview with reporters at the International Consumer Electronics Show, Glaser said he expects that the digital entertainment company will win a suit filed against it in October by six major Hollywood studios.

He also said that if the company needs to make small changes to its software so that it can be sold, it will, “but we don’t anticipate any,” he added.

Glaser’s is the better side of the argument, and hopefully, the winning side.  The details of the case—both technologically and legally—are complex, but RealNetworks seems to have a case.

RealNetworks claims it should be allowed to sell RealDVD because it doesn’t destroy CSS encryption, the DRM that’s intended to protect DVDs from being copied.  In fact, as CrunchGear has reported:

RealDVD takes copy protection one step further. In addition to keeping CSS (et al.) intact, Real adds another layer of DRM onto the RealDVD file. This is done, presumably, to prevent people from sharing RealDVD images with each other.

So where’s the problem Hollywood?  If I want to load my laptop with DVDs and watch them on a plane, that’s a perfectly fair use.  Plus, this product is actually pro-DRM, which should make studio execs happy.  It adds DRM, this is a producer’s dream!

Hollywood Insider reports that the outlook for Hollywood is mixed.  Ticket sales are down, but ticket prices are up ($7 nationwide average in US), so box office totals actually rose 2%.  Foreign markets also helped Hollywood’s bottom line, setting new sales records.

So, Hollywood isn’t looking death in the face, but it’s not growing by leaps and bounds either.  While it hovers in this state of limbo, wondering what it’s future will be, is the best strategy to attack consumers who just want to watch a DVD on their laptop?

Sumner Redstone needs to write a “Thoughts on Movies” memo.

Addendum: I should point out that RealDVD should be legal regardless of whether it adds or even strips out DRM.  Not only are anti-DRM breaking laws (I’m looking at you DMCA) attacks on free speech as it applies to software writing, but DRM itself is just a bad idea.  I still think companies should be allowed to use it—DRM shouldn’t be prohibited by law—but I think history now shows that DRM doesn’t serve the best interests of consumers or content creators.

Thanks to Tim Lee for pointing out that “RealNetworks should have the freedom to sell DVD rippers whether or not it adds its own DRM” via Twitter.  I’m sorry I made the initial version of the post sound as though I thought otherwise.

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