Piracy and DRM: Thanks for the Entertainment

XKCD absoluteley nails the explanation of why DRM sucks: XKCD Steal This Comic

And in related news, Ars Technica reports that the entertainment industry has basically been making up stats about how much piracy is costing the U.S. Economy, while Larry Lessig (via Techdirt) argues in favor of decriminalizing musical piracy and remixing.

When will the entertainment industry learn?


Learning From The Past: How DRM Failed in Australia

While doing research for my Ph.D. I came across the history of how radio was introduced in Australia – and how it initially failed due to some ancient DRM suggested by the industry heavyweights.

Official radio transmission in Australia commenced in 1923. In May that year the Postmaster-General convened a conference of all interested parties to consider the introduction of systematic broadcasting. At this conference E.T. Fisk, head of Amalgamated Wireless Australasia (AWA), the company that held the Australian rights to the most crucial wireless patents, proposed a scheme "which provided for competitive broadcasting by stations each having exclusive use of a particular wavelength in a given area and getting its income from subscriptions paid by listeners whose receivers were sealed to its wavelength alone" (Barnard, 1992: 6) – basically some old-school DRM (or should I say Analog Rights Management?).

The regulations were approved in July, the first licence was applied for in August and by the end of the year six had been issued. By March 1924 it was widely held that the sealed set system had failed: Less than 1400 listeners bothered to (officially) apply for a subscription.

The scheme was not only unenforceable but it also was not supported by the wireless dealers, therefore the main responsibility for the day-to-day operation of the scheme was placed in the hands of those most likely to undermine it (Counihan, 1992: 14): Of course the dealers weren't enthusiastic about selling some crippled technology that potentially could receive dozens of stations – and neither were the customers who resorted to 'piracy'. In short: "It was obvious that the sealed set scheme was doomed from the start" (Harte, 2002: 56).

In July 1924, after another conference, the sealed set was replaced by new regulations and a dual system, involving stations funded by advertising revenue, the so-called "B" stations, as well as stations financed out of listeners' licence fees, the "A" stations, began operating. Already by the end of 1924 some 38,000 Australians held "A" station licences.


Believe The Hype(Machine)

First there was Napster. When that fell, we had Kazaa and a host of imitators. Pandora rose to prominence a few years ago, but seems to be plagued by the same copyright and licensing limitations that the other systems had. There are BitTorrents, but these seem to be only good for popular or newly released albums.

The next best solution is music blogs. These sites are a great alternative to both Pandora and BitTorrents because they offer tracks that you might not have heard about (but might enjoy because of someone's suggestion) or that are not otherwise available for download. As best as I can determine, they operate on the edge of legality and quickly take their content off line if they are deemed to be infringing on some (ridiculous) copyright law.

A step up from the music blog is The Hype Machine, a music blog aggregator. It takes all these great blogs, lets you listen to the song before taking you to the place where you can download it. Rather than being a "walled-garden" like the above mentioned services, then entire internet is your playground when you use The Hype Machine.

While you've heard of bands that have made it big by way of MySpace, I've heard (mostly by word of mouth) that a number of bands are starting to come out of the music blog scene.

An example of this is the amount of excitement surrounding Parisian electro phenom Uffie. In anticipation of an upcoming album release, she's been releasing tracks to various music blogs for the past year or so.

Check it out.

(for my personal recommendation,  shit doesn't get much hotter than Uffie's track "Pop The Glock")