Douwe Osinga's Blog: In favour of Digital Rights Management software

Sunday, October 5, 2003

In favour of Digital Rights Management software

The beauty about a society where a lot of the production is actually information production, is that the economies of scale in an information society work even better than in a industrial society. If I write a program, that will take a certain amount of effort. But the total amount of effort hardly increases if the program is distributed millions of times. The same goes for songs, movies and anything digital.

The problem is of course that if anybody can copy my program, how am I going to make money on it. A tricky one, but banning the copying of the program is hardly the answer. Take music for example. The actual musicians get a few cents per sold CD, while the CD costs 20 US dollars (at least here). Where does the rest of the money go? Distribution and promotion, something that could be done for almost free over the Internet, as is demonstrated by the blog phenomenon.

The wide implementation of Digital Rights Management software that will prevent all kinds of copying will therefore be an economic disaster. Digital things will become as expensive as material things and the money will end up in the wrong pockets. But all freedom loving people should strive to have it implemented as soon as possible. Because people are not that stupid. Offer them a system that takes away there freedom and charges them for it and they'll finally start looking for an alternative.

Take Ms Office. If the technology was out there to prohibit all illegal copying of Office, most companies would be forced to get a legal copy of the software for every single one of their workstation, while currently they probably have too few licenses. But people at home wouldn't buy Office. They would start to look around and find OpenOffice, just as good, but free. Or maybe StarOffice, even better and not quite free. And they would love it. And than the companies would say, hey, if this works and our employees use it, let's use it too.

In the realm of music, the same might happen. Let the RIAA prohibit copying and exchange of all music under their control. Let them try to kill the spirit of music lovers. They won't succeed. People willl want to exchange music and just discover bands that distribute their music over the Internet in a more free way. Not as long as it is possible to exchange any kind of music with Kazaa, of course. But give them the choice between mainstream music and freedom, they'll choose freedom in the end.