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« The Purpose of Copyright | Main | Musical Socialism 2.0 »

September 11, 2004


Therefore, any distributor who decides to use the SVP model will be relying heavily not only on the consumer's ability to afford new video devices, but willingness to go out and purchase them. The hope is that eventually every video device manufactured will contain the SVP-enabled video playback. Obviously, with investments already made in home entertainment systems, this hope could be more of a pipe dream.

Existing consumer investment in existing products is not a good argument against new technology. In order to sell CDs, companies had to convince people to buy CD players instead of tapes. DVDs? Why would people buy these new players when VHS works fine?

A couple of reasons:

1. Availability. When I go into Best Buy, I don't see a lot of VHS tapes for sale. I see plenty of DVDs. Chances are, the movie I want is available on DVD but not VHS. Availability influences consumer decisions to pick up that DVD player they have been stubbornly resisting. If all of the major movie companies switch over to a new higher-security format and stop selling DVDs as the primary retail product, consumers will follow if they want movies. Will the studios' bottom line suffer for a couple years? Maybe so. However, if piracy is the huge financial problem they claim and they believe new technology will greatly help to stop the problem, the studios will be willing to take a smaller loss now and save a bundle in the future.

2. New features. Consumers often accept new technology because of perceived advantages to adopting the new standard. Moving from tapes to CDs gave buyers better sound quality and easy digital track access (no more rewind/fast forward). HDTVs make up a much greater percentage
of television sales now than a few years ago. In the recent past we didn't have cable-ready televisions, S-video or component video inputs, or even remote control capable sets.

New standards are already being developed for the video disc market. Read a bit about Blu-ray, a new optical disc format with much greater capacity and quality than DVD. Most industry observers expect Blu-ray to replace DVD within a few years. The new format was jointly created by all of the big names in consumer electronics (Sony, Philips, Dell, Pioneer, Samsung, etc.). The movie industry and the electronics manufacturers can surely hammer out a deal to make all players for the new discs incorporate standard protection schemes like the one you write about.

The "someone will hack it anyway" problem is a stronger argument, but still not a reason to abandon attempts to strengthen security. Yes, it is a vicious cycle, but if the studios want to protect their copyrights they have to fight with technology. We are in a technological age, and the general public understands the upgrade cycles. Just compare a PC from only a few years ago to the systems for sale today. PC users can't run Windows XP on an average machine from 1997, but that doesn't prevent Microsoft from being very successful publishing new software that requires hardware upgrades. Technology has a short life cycle before it becomes obsolete, so addidng security measures to the next generation of products is not an unreasonable solution.

Also, it is unwise to focus on the small percentage of hacker types who will crack any security feature. Those people will always exist, but a tiny percentage of people willing to put in the time and effort to hack/tinker/modify their consumer electronics products are not going to affect the industry's bottom line very much. Industry only really fears a time when the AVERAGE user knows how to bypass security (a lot more potential for the bottom line to be affected then!). It takes some time from product introduction to the point where that sort of common knowledge exists. When that time comes, it's time to move on to a new technology and begin the cycle anew. That's just the nature of life in the age of high-tech.

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