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Thursday, April 24, 2008

Why DRM sucks

I am a writer, that means I make money off of my intellectual property.

This does not mean I like digital rights management in any way, shape, or form. Here is an object lesson why. I don’t even blame Microsoft for giving the finger to all their former MSN Music customers, because tying rights to a user’s hardware is an inherently untenable model. With any DRM scheme, you are telling the end user “buy content, buy content, buy content” at the same time saying, “but we’ll have to shitcan all the content when the hardware changes, we sell the company, or go bankrupt.” Do we want a world where a publisher can go under and people have legitimately owned content that just expires? Of course, the bean counters like the idea of the user buying it all over again, but how many users will tolerate that? Who's willing to gamble their entire library on the chance that Kindle 2.0 won’t be backward compatible?

The economic goal here is not to squeeze the end user, it’s to make sure the content creator gets paid enough to continue creating the content. Metallica and Haraln Ellison may bitch and moan about their audience “stealing” their work, but unless they’re at the point they're selling stuff out of their trunk, the end user ain’t who’s signing their checks, and books and CDs ain’t what they’re selling. They (and I, and most creative types) are selling the right to publish our creation to some other entity. As long as that entity makes money on the transaction, they will continue to buy Metallica’s songs and Mr. Ellison’s books. Royalties are just a mechanism of profit-sharing that’s essentially arbitrary— most writers get an advance against those royalties that’s negotiated as high as possible to get as much money as possible up front. So, ideally, you get paid a lump that hits a sweet spot that exceeds all the future royalties by just enough not to eat into the publisher’s profits so much they don’t want to buy the next book. DRM exists as an attempt to preserve the current economic model, not to serve the ultimate goal of that model. The goal is to make money on content, not to force people to pay for content, a subtle, but profound difference.

Frankly, if a publisher of mine can figure out how to turn a larger profit on my books by giving them away, assuming I share in that profit somehow, I’m ok with that.


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