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Record companies and movie studios like products. Real, tangible, physical products you can buy, place in a bag, and carry home. This keeps the issue of distribution and ownership nice and straightforward—-those who are holding the product in exchange for money hold a licence to use it, within predefined boundaries. Accountants, lawyers, and those fresh out of an economics degree can cope with this model with no problem at all. But what if the customer doesn’t necessarily want or need a physical, touchy-feely product in a box? What if, for example, they can download the album or film or book or whatever, and this fits in with their highly digital lifestyle?
The first thing they tried to do, of course, was stop people downloading. There was no licencing model in place that allowed this to happen, because the revenue stream was based entirely on the purchase of the physical product. When that didn’t work (and a few bright sparks realised that, if the downloading went legit, there was money to be made), download stored began springing up.
But they’re still terrified about licencing, and rightly so. Digital Rights Management is an attempt at a technical solution to the problem, and works by trying to limit the movements of a file containing licenced data such as a song or film. Essentially, however, DRM punishes the consumer because, sooner or later, things need to be moved, reorganised, repurposed. Working around DRM may be the activity of those determined to pirate media, but increasingly it’s also a future-proofing activity of savvy consumers, maybe the ones who’ve been stung by the move from vinyl to CD, or from VHS to DVD.
In the real world, most consumers don’t care so much about licencing. Lawyers and accountants worry about licencing, while consumers generally pay a fair price and expect a fair product in return. And yet the heavy-handed approach taken by the music and movie industries will only stand to alienate and infuriate an ever-increasing number of potential customers.
Had they been smart about it at the time, they’d have realised that if they had taken direct responsibility for licence management, they’d be in much better shape as the world goes increasingly digital.
Let’s take a scenario. I buy a cinema ticket to see a film. I enjoy the film so, as I leave the cinema, I put my card back in the machine to purchase a home licence (maybe it’s a little cheaper that way). That way I’m able to watch the film an unlimited number of times in the comfort of my own home.
What happens next is no longer of importance to the studio: maybe I rent it (at a reduced price, to reflect that I’ve already paid to licence the content, so all I need to pay is cost of manufacture and shipping), maybe I buy it (again, at reduced cost) or, maybe, I download it. That way, it doesn’t really matter where I got it from, or whether or not I’ve got a box in my hand—-both the studio and I have asserted that I’ve paid to licence the content, and so if anyone is unsure (and this is the important bit) the studio has a record of my licence—-I’m a name on a list of licencees against that particular film.
Big Brotherish? Possibly, but I think the freedom would have outweighed the privacy issues. After all, because this kind of approach didn’t happen, we can only expect more and more intrusive laws in attempt to work out who the hell is breaking licences.