Now that a major record label has finally consented to sell music without DRM restrictions it would be easy to portray Steve Jobs as a hero of the anti-DRM movement. After all, it was just two months ago that Jobs published his scathing letter criticizing the music industry for its reliance on DRM.
The problem is, Steve Jobs isn’t really an anti-DRM crusader. In fact, he has a pretty obvious double standard when it comes to DRM. Jobs has made it clear that when we talk about the death of DRM we’re really only talking about the death of DRM for music. As Jobs said during Monday’s press conference:
“Video’s pretty different than music because the video industry does not distribute 90% of its content DRM-free — never have. So I think they’re in a pretty different situation.”
Spoken like the single largest shareholder of the Disney Corporation.
While it’s true that copy protection schemes have been around since the advent of home video, it’s also true that DRM for video downloads is subject to all of the same issues that Jobs identified in his rant against DRM for music.
- Video copy protection schemes don’t actually protect content. While it’s true that almost all commercial DVD’s contains copy protection, it’s well known that that copy protection doesn’t actually protect the content on the DVDs. High quality copies of protected DVD content are easily available through file sharing networks. This is one of the main problems with DRM. It punishes honest consumers by limiting their options, while pirates can easily gain access to digital content that is free of any limitations.
- DRM for video downloads is proprietary and device dependent. You simply can’t compare the copy protection systems used for analog video tape or even DVDs to the DRM systems being used for digital video downloads. The current generation of digital DRM schemes are device dependent and incompatible. While consumers may have grown used to copy protection on video products, they haven’t had much experience with the proprietary DRM that Apple, Microsoft, and others will be offering through various incompatible download services.
- Consumer lock-in is just as much a problem for digital video as it is for digital music. DRM locks consumers in to a single brand player and content provider. As a result of the proprietary nature of Apple, Microsoft, and other DRM systems used to protect video content, consumers are essentially locked-in to their current platform. That was never the the case with DVD or analog video copy protection. When your DVD player dies you aren’t limited to a single brand player when you go shopping for a replacement.
The battle against DRM is far from over. Consumers who download digital video will, apparently, be stuck with DRM for some time to come.
Just don’t expect Steve Jobs to start railing against DRM for video any time soon.