DRM viewpoints: Michael Gartenberg vs. Michael Masnick

Engadget’s Michael Gartenberg and Techdirt’s Michael Masnick square off in opposing columns about the merits or lack thereof of Digital Rights Management (DRM).

Gartenberg feels that DRM has been demonized unfairly, and that it enables new business models that could not exist without it.

Take subscription services for example. Sure, I'd love a service that would allow me to download unlimited content in high bitrate MP3 format for a reasonable fee every month. Except economics and greed will never let that happen (although I suspect we'd see a lot users sign up for about 30-60 days).

Gartenberg does not address what happens when that DRM-locked subscription service goes out of business, though he does admit that DRM is easily broken.

Yes, I know most DRM solutions can and will be circumvented. If there's a lock on the door, someone is always going to try to find the key and usually they will. It's not about that. Folks that are looking to avoid paying for stuff will usually find a way. I'm talking about folks who are willing and looking to legally acquire content.

Masnick, on the other hand, points out that it is not the DRM that enables the subscription-based business model Gartenberg trumpets—it is fear of how people will use the music.

But, that makes no sense. People already have access to pretty much every song ever recorded with no DRM at all. Claiming that they need DRM to enable such a service makes no sense. It’s already there—just not legally. So what does the DRM stop in such a service? Absolutely nothing. If the fear is that someone takes a song and shares it online… too late. It’s already happened. The only thing that DRM does in that situation is put up a restriction on a legitimate, paying customer. That makes no economic sense at all.

Masnick says that no business model has ever been built on restricting behavior. Companies may be afraid to try a business model without DRM, but that is not the same thing as saying the DRM “enabled” it.

Both these essays are interesting windows into opposing viewpoints on DRM. Be sure and read them both.

About Chris Meadows (4158 Articles)
TeleRead Editor Chris Meadows has been writing for us--except for a brief interruption--since 2006. Son of two librarians, he has worked on a third-party help line for Best Buy and holds degrees in computer science and communications. He clearly personifies TeleRead's motto: "For geeks who love books--and book-lovers who love gadgets." Chris lives in Indianapolis and is active in the gamer community.

2 Comments on DRM viewpoints: Michael Gartenberg vs. Michael Masnick

  1. Masnick is wrong on this: Every business model is based on restricting behavior. Specifically, obtaining their product or service without the business’ profiting from the transaction… the central point of all businesses. The key is to make sure the customer either does not feel restricted, or feels the benefit of the product is worth the restrictions, so the business will profit.

    If you don’t believe it: Name some successful products from unprofitable businesses. (I’ll wait.)

    That DRM doesn’t work for e-books is only a sign that that particular restriction doesn’t match the benefit… yet. That doesn’t mean it can’t be done eventually, either with DRM, or some other form of restriction (think biometric). And as there are very few products in this world that do not manage to sell successfully without some restriction placed on them, I see no reason e-books will somehow be different.

  2. See, I think some of this is a semantic argument that would be ended instantly (yeah, right–snort–Internet argument ends) if someone called a DRMed ebook sale a “rental”, AND charged for it like a rental. Rent me an ebook for a longish time (a month, a year), with no other promised value, and charge me 1/4 to 1/10th of the value of the least expensive paper version of that book.

    If I want to read it again, I have no problem renting it again. I’d have no expectation of giving the ebook away, or selling it, or loaning it to a friend. It clearly isn’t mine.

    I susbscribe to Netflix and OnDemand, and pay 1/4-1/2 of the purchase cost to view a DVD once or twice. Because everyone’s upfront about it, everyone’s happy.

    Where I get bent out of shape is when some yobbo rents me a ebook, calls it a sale, tacks on a hidden license that makes it a lease, and charges me as much or more for the rental as he charges for the paper book. My momma dint raise no fools.

    Jack Tingle

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