5 min read

Digital rights management and conditional access

Control has become more important than the content

We are seeing the same tipping point emerging as we move forward in the digital content era with digital rights management (DRM) and conditional access (CA).

DRM and CA control has become more important than the content to the music industry and Tellywood because they see a big sucking sound from their content-embedded bottom line. With content nearly all digital today, they don’t focus on just the wholesale pirates but view everyone – your grandmother, the 10-year-old down the block and yes, even you – as a thief.

They want – no demand – an absolutely bullet-proof DRM/CA solution that will guarantee they get every centavo, yen, Euro, dollar they can squeeze from the people who are simply dieing for their content. The damn stuff is invisible to mere mortals but boy does it have potential to play havoc with your content enjoyment and in fact the future of the entire PC, CE industry.

The problem is that there are too many organizations and groups wanting to control the future. They all say “yes sir” they are going to deliver a solution that will be in the best interest for all parties – content owners, distributors and viewers. But somehow when they discuss the superiority of “their” solution, it sounds like “**** you!” to everyone else in the room.

Let’s face a brutally ugly fact…DRM and CA is necessary.

The individual or organization that developed, refined and brought the product (any product) to market deserves to be compensated for his/her/their efforts.

The person who purchased the product has the right to use, share and enjoy the product within reasonable parameters.

The new view, the new “opportunities” for DRM and CA come into play because everyone has a different view of those rights.

If you buy a book (you remember them right?) you can read it, trade it, sell it, heck even make a copy if you want.

Digital book? Are you out of your freakin mind!

Digital video? Sure you used to be able to use your VCR legally to grab a show or make a copy (backup).

You used to be able to make a backup. Used to be able to tape a song or radio show. Copy your disc as a backup? Copy off 10-13 of your favorites and put it on a new CD or on your player? Download a song at will? Copy a HighDef song from the air?

To make their point the owners cut a wide swath pointing to the global theft by the quick buck artists and people who make a living living off other people – stealing the content from one group and offering it at a helluva savings to the other group.

The war on content theft/bootlegging isn’t being won:

Global losses from software piracy according to the Business Software Alliance (BSA) are put at $34 billion. It is decreasing slightly but it is still high (roughly 35% of all software sales)

Movie studios (MPAA) put their wholesale losses at slightly more than $6 billion

The music industry (RIAA) is pretty certain that their declining sales is due to illegal copies and downloads

Since being cheap isn’t against the law, content owners can’t have people who simply buy knockoffs hauled off to jail.

Educating and encouraging the demand side of the equation is too expensive, too time consuming and…too subtle.

The solution – obviously – is that they will protect you from yourself with some version of DRM and CA.

Like Meta data (data about data), DRM and CA represent a huge market in and of itself. One all of the hollow men want to control. Their version is …the next logical step.

Everyone is rushing to become the hollow man.

It’s more valuable than being the winner of the blue technology race (in fact that looks like chump change!).

According to iSuppli we’re talking about a mix of intellectual property (IP), royalties, client software, server/subscriber software that will pull in a tidy $4.7 billion by 2010.

Does that sound realistic?

Look at how music downloads have taken off. Almost nothing a few years ago it grew to a $251 million industry last year and could be a $10 billion industry by 2011.

Even a ha’penny per download and we’re talking serious money.

With virtually every nation of the world moving rapidly to broadband (more than a billion this year alone) and mobile everything, the world of content is going online.

The U.S. is behind the Pacific Basin in demand for online content, slightly ahead of Europe and well ahead of developing countries. But the interest in music, video, games is growing dramatically.

Content providers, service providers and platform providers are busting their humps to deliver the answer and the consumer be damned.

Trouble is, everyone has his/her view of what the best DRM/CA is (which they have obviously patented) and none of the solutions are seamlessly compatible.

Jobs is perfectly happy with his version of DRM. Gates knows he has the definitive solution. The DVD Forum has their favorite. Sony/BMG tried a CA solution for music that didn’t work out well. But they are coming back with a better music and video solution. Panasonic has their solution on the table as does Philips and well nine or ten other solution pools.

We’re talking about saving the universe here…a few casualties like consumer convenience and enjoyment are to be expected.

We have more proprietary and “standardized” DRM and CA options than we can count. Actually about 10 different music DRMs, roughly a dozen video DRMs and a half dozen CA approaches.

Interoperability?

Well let’s see. If that happens then you know folks are going to move their content from one device, one location to another. That is unacceptable! Buy (actually you’re only renting it) content for one device – iPod, cellphone, notebook, home media hub – that’s where it should stay. What if you buy it on a disc and move the disc around…that’s well different. Need a backup? Buy a second copy stupid.

Protection of the creator’s rights to proper compensation has been around since before the printing press. With each new technology – player pianos, radio, TV, VCR, tape, CD, DVD – there were the doomsday people who said content development and distribution channels would be killed. Instead they evolved and flourished.

Yes theft did occur. In fact it became big business…a very big business. With the digital landscape Tellywood and the music industry have even greater fears. They can be ripped off in the bat of an eye. Instantly their content can be distributed anywhere, everywhere.

They view the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) as their opportunity to right the wrongs of the past and protect their future. Dozens of groups have developed proprietary DRM and CA that will enable the content industries to squeeze profits from every song, from every video moment. Along the way, their solution will make them richer than Bill Gates (yes Bill has his approach also).

If content sales/rentals are to move forward it will be on their solution. If you buy/rent content protected by someone else’s DRM/CA approach there is no guarantee you’ll be able to enjoy it on one of the devices using the 10+ audio or nearly dozen video protected playback solutions.

Don’t even think about usurping their DRM.

Got content with CA that spells out how long, how many times or how many different devices you can view it on? The hollow DRM/CA war is more of a danger than the blue technology skirmish.

You can see the BD and HD DVD logos. The DRM and CA people are …invisible. They can strike you anytime they want and you’ll never know what – or who – hit you!

If consumers get slapped two or three times in the pocketbook and can’t enjoy the content they bought or rented it will affect PC, CE, media sales. People will simply quit buying and turn to other entertainment like personal video, indie video/music, video games, heck even reading.

Content providers have to accept something that goes beyond