Digital Rights Management's days are numbered, and the dawn of the pirate market approaches. Some will consider it a long-overdue market adjustment that has been on the horizon for decades; others will see it as simply the result of our changing technologies; and yet others will scream bloody murder at the injustice of it all. Regardless of what you think of the approaching death of DRM, it's going to happen.
It has been common knowledge since at least 2004 that DRM systems don't work, are bad for society, are bad for business, and are bad for artists.
The copyright infringers -- pirates -- have numbers, a better mastery of technology, and public opinion on their side. It's no longer feasible to fight them, and intellectual property and media owners must adapt to the new pirate market or die.
Fear not: It's not as bad as it sounds. It will be different, and there will to be many changes. But first, let me explain why the pirate market is inevitable and why DRM is going to walk the plank.
Reason No. 1: You can't compete with Santa Claus.
If Santa Claus were real, he'd probably be an outlaw today. He and his elves would be making perfect copies of any gift or toy despite the efforts of patent holders and copyright owners, and delivering them -- for free -- to good people across the globe. Businesses would scream at the loss of profits each and every year: partly because the most commercial holiday of the year would no longer be so commercial, and partly because Santa empties out the reindeers' pens into their stockings. They would do their best to outlaw these free gifts by putting restrictions on chimneys, outlawing the hanging of stockings by the fireplace, and forcing the registration of any and all gifts received Christmas morning. They'd try smear campaigns, painting the jolly old elf as a criminal and thief and claiming he's destroying the economy. But in the end, people are going to side with the fat old dude giving out free stuff. Besides, fighting Santa lands you on the "naughty" list.
Reason No. 2: Technology favors the pirates.
DRM costs money and takes time to develop. One estimate a few years back suggested that DRM costs could hit $9 billion by 2012. On top of the costs, there are many ways to bypass the restrictions; and pirates only have to do it once. Once the DRM-free versions hit the Internet, it's impossible to kill them. It's more economical to put tech to good use than to try to stomp it out because of the way it can be used.
Reason No. 3: Dinosaurs are lousy rat-catchers.
Rats can't take down a dinosaur -- they're too small to fight one-on-one and too disorganized to swarm it and kill it with numbers. On the other hand, dinosaurs are large, loud, lumbering creatures and can maybe only kill a handful of the slowest rodents while the others scatter to safety. This isn't just an analogy about lawsuits against individuals, as pirate networks themselves are too numerous and too nimble for big business to take down. Rather than make enemies of these networks, doesn't it make more sense to turn them into advocates?
Since the pirates have cost, numbers, technology, and efficiency advantages over the traditional market, it's pretty clear that piracy will be the inevitable winner, and fighting it will only waste resources.
Marketers need to adapt to the new climate, rather than fight a losing battle to hold back change.
— Scott Kinoshita was originally a computer programmer, who retrained to marketing after realizing his big dream was to make online marketing that didn't stink.
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