DRM – music and film industries going in different directions?

By February 7, 2007 2 Comments

Down with DRM 

It was interesting to read on page one of the Financial Times this morning that Steve Jobs is saying the record industry should ditch DRM and then on page twenty one that Jeff Zucker new CEO of NBC is going the other way and attacking YouTube over their refusal to protect copyrighted content.

(The irony of not being able to link a post on DRM to the source material in the FT because of their DRM is not lost on me.)

Unprotected music will help Apple sell more iPods (which is where they make their money) and taking this position will help Jobs in his battle with Europe over iTunes compatibility with rival MP3 players – so he has an interest in taking this position.  None the less there is a growing momentum towards DRM free music in general when you take this alongside the recent announcement from indie labels and musings from the majors on the same subject.  (Although I accept that the devil will be in the detail and there is a long way to go from announcement to DRM free service.)

Owners of video content are firmly sticking to their copyright guns though. 

This might be a question of timing.  When Napster was in it’s heyday the music industry was sounding very much like the TV/film industry is today, and I’m sure I’m not the first to suggest that YouTube might be the Napster for video.  If this line of thought is correct then we can expect the TV media world to pursue the application of digital rights aggressively until the evidence they have failed is overwhelming.  For the music industry illegal downloads outnumber legal downloads by over 10:1 – and the major labels are only just starting to wake up to the impossibility of imposing DRM.

The trouble with this is that it ignores a major difference between the music and tv/film industries.  A substantial part, possibly the majority of music industry profits come because people who listen to music and love also buy merchandise and go to concerts – so losing music sales doesn’t decimate the industry.  TV and film is different – if their is no payment at the point of consumption (via advertising, subscription, or pay per view) then there is nothing.  (I have posted on this in the past.)

For this reason I think that Hollywood will need to find a way to protect it’s digital rights.

As an aside IMHO, the Walmart movie download service will not be game changing.  I say this because they are pricing their movies at “near DVD prices”.