Adam Fields (weblog)

This blog is largely deprecated, but is being preserved here for historical interest. Check out my index page at for more up to date info. My main trade is technology strategy, process/project management, and performance optimization consulting, with a focus on enterprise and open source CMS and related technologies. More information. I write periodic long pieces here, shorter stuff goes on twitter or


Cory rants on DRM (and rightly so)

Fantastic piece on DRM by Cory Doctorow.

I think this is a mostly accurate assessment, one that is not worded strongly enough.

But, there’s a distinction between “how things should be” and “how things are currently” that needs to be drawn.

Content owners, however unfortunate that may be, do call most of the shots, by virtue of the fact that they claim to do so. But there’s no reason to think that the public has to let them. In contracts, and more specifically, in policy, the guilty party that yells the loudest and makes the most demands can set the stage up however they want, and everyone who goes along with it gives them only more power to do so. This is the reality of intangible agreements, and the “rules” are whatever the content companies dictate and consumers accept. Or consumers dictate and content companies accept. If you disagree with this, you must speak. Verbally, with your wallet, in print, on the radio, on TV. Change the discourse.

I wholeheartedly agree with the point about using DRM to remove functionality included at the time of purchase, and shrouding it in ongoing rental/license fees as an excuse that you always have the choice to renew or cancel, and so promises they’ve made up to that point are somehow not required to be included in future negotiations. This sort of transaction is very much like a “sale”, but it is not a “sale”, even though most people continue to consider it such (because all they know is “sale”, and no one’s explained the new rules to them well enough). It differs from a “sale” in that it removes any obligation on the part of the producer/supplier to not reverse any of the terms of the transaction after the fact. Think about what that means for a second.. . .

Think about what it would be like if other things worked this way. Say you buy a microwave oven that comes with a “single touch popcorn function”. That’d be a selling point of the microwave, that would maybe encourage you to choose one kind of microwave over another. Now, say it’s a month later, and the popcorn function stops working. You’d expect the company to fix it, right? Now, what if when you ask them to fix it, they say “Sorry, we turned if off from here. If you want to make popcorn, you have to pay us another dollar.”? Do you? Or do you decide that the initial purchase was made on fraudulent terms and demand your money back?

Maybe, the argument goes, they won’t do this because then — who would buy their product in the future? But what if, at the same time, it became impossible to find a microwave with a built-in popcorn feature that was just “included”? That would be stupid, right? Maybe this is stretching the analogy a bit thin. Manufacturers should be adding features to get new customers, not taking them away. Except that you’re not looking at the right value proposition – the fact that you want to make popcorn in your microwave benefits the people who make the microwave in exactly zero ways, once you’ve already made the decision to buy the microwave… Unless, that is, they can get you to buy the ability to make popcorn again. Of course, they’d have to also find ways of getting you to think you still had a good deal, so you wouldn’t tell your friends what happened.

There are three possible outcomes:

1) Your microwave (and everything else digital, and that eventually means “everything”) starts to behave more like your cable box. Welcome to popcorn licensing.

2) Your cable box starts to behave like your microwave does today. Frankly, I just don’t see this happening.

3) We all step away and look at different pricing models for this business of bit pattern creation, and examine what the real value of this industry is, and where the trade-offs are.

Content companies spend millions per year on lobbying the government to change the “rules”.

Where are you in this discussion?


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