Digital Rights Management (DRM) is the fancy term used to describe how content providers (publishers, record companies, film industry) place security restrictions on how their content is used. Corporate marketers have friendlier names for it like "Plays4Sure". It seems like a great idea for those corporate entities to protect their investments in the post-Napster age, right? Wrong. Here's why DRM is bad and as a concept is doomed to fail.
1.) Consumers don't want it, they just may not know it yet. One of the truisms in technology is that people are jazzed up by the latest and greatest, but what is the latest and greatest today is taken for granted as a feature tomorrow. Could you imagine a TV today without a remote control? Right now, CE users are so enamored of the latest breakthroughs like iPods, Slingboxes, Blu-Ray, and HDTV to realize the restrictions that are being placed on them. When the innovation in these types of devices stabilizes, people will start to notice that they can't do what they used to be able to do in the past with content that they legitimately purchased. People will start asking questions--What do you mean I can't transfer my iTunes purchases to a new device? What do you mean I can't stream HD content around my house on my slingbox? What do you mean I can't make a mix CD for my girlfriend? What do you mean I can't trade in an unwanted CD for cash?
2.) Lawyers will get involved. I buy a CD, I should be able to sell it to someone, right? Shouldn't that apply to downloaded content that I own? Wait until someone tries to sue a customer over this and the Supremes get involved. I'm no lawyer, but I think that the case is simple to make. Plus, once a case like that makes it to the Supreme Court, articles will be written, awareness will be heightened, and people will start getting upset, realizing the restrictions that are placed on them (see #1).
3.) DRM doesn't work. The amount of effort and cost that companies like Microsoft and Apple go through is huge, and the effort required for hackers to render it useless is small. It's a losing battle for corporations, and one that hits their bottom line.
That's great, you say. I just cited reasons that DRM is bad. No news there. But without DRM, how will content providers be able to protect and grow their revenue streams? The answer--Necessity is the mother of invention. Someone will create a better business model to address these issues and preserve and even grow revenue streams. In some ways we already see it. Product placement in pop culture has been around a while, though some do it better than others. Have you ever listened to those old time radio shows where the stars are hawking the goods before the entertainment begins? Maybe we will return to that. I wouldn't fast forward through Evangeline Lily telling (showing?) me that this episode of Lost was sponsored by Coppertone suntan lotion. or, "This episode of 24 is sponsored by Smith and Wesson." Maybe we see ads scrolling on the bottom of the screen like a stock ticker. I don't know what method(s) will prevail, but look for new innovative new revenue streams for content providers in the coming years. The networks are already streaming their shows over the web, embedding ads in the stream. Me? I wouldn't flip out if a Honda logo popped up on my iPod whenever a song from iTunes was playing, especially if it meant that I was getting music for less or for free. That's right--I could even see music companies GIVING AWAY music/movies if the alternative revenue streams were there. What do they care if they get their $1 from the consumer or from Budweiser? Plus, if NBC/Universal gives away its content, that sort of kills the illegal P2P market, right? The Neo-Napsters with their unreliable downloads and buggy software can't compete with that.
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