Update on the Electronic Media War

by Mike Shea on 2 April 2007

I remember clearly the day I found out that the Circuit City DIVX monstrosity, a bastardized DVD player that required a phone line to dial in and determine your rights to watch a DVD every time you purchased it, died. It was about four in the morning and I was just about to head out of town but I still managed to write a few words on Liquid Theater about it.

I felt the same way last night when the Wall Street Journal broke the news that Apple and EMI would announce that EMI would begin releasing music on iTunes without DRM. Today the news became official. All of EMI's music would be released on iTunes for $1.30 a track at double the sampling rate and without any DRM.

This is a great victory in the media war but it is only one battle of many.

In order to judge the impact of this news, let's look at exactly why we care about DRM in the first place. Let's start with the things I want from digital music, movies, and TV shows:

DRM prevents most of the criteria above. It locks you into a forced proprietary playback system, it requires authorization every time you move it, and it is not likely to restore from a long-term archive.

The removal of DRM from EMI music means the next time I buy a Rolling Stones album, it will meet the above criteria.

EMI's announcement is only one step in a larger war, however. The following outlines what needs to occur before we can declare "Mission Accomplished":

The last hill in the media war is a complete reformation of copyright law. Copyright law is a mess right now. Material that was intended by its original author for wide distribution is held close by the greedy hands of heirs who care nothing for the actual intent of the material. All of our creative works for the past eighty years is crushed under laws written by a very small group of people with very small goals to protect a tiny fraction of the total work. Disney alone modified the entire world's copyright laws in order to protect Mickey Mouse. That needs to be broken before artistic freedom is truely met.

In the mean time, I'll still be watching proprietary shows on proprietary hardware while most of the rest of the world breaks the law every day simply to have what they want: a good product.