Thursday, February 23, 2012

On Pirates and DRM

When I pushed the eBook edition of FantastiCon live I was faced with a very difficult choice:  To DRM or Not to DRM.  Was it nobler to face the slings and arrows of those who so hate having file use restricted or to accept such and deny them by placing a wall about their purchase?  And this was made even more complicated given that my target audience is fairly tech savy and the kind of folk who probably would prefer to have a book they can move around from platform to platform freely.  (Note to self:  See if Amazon will let me list the book twice, once with DRM and once without)

Set that thought aside and let me point to something else, the actual inspiration for this post:

A friend linked to an Oatmeal comic related to the challenges of getting to watch Game of Thrones on the computer.  It's meant to be a lighthearted look at how many road blocks can exist to someone getting the content they want.  Unfortunately I did not see the main character as someone I should feel sorry for because he was denied his television show.

The young man in the comic was a whiney prat.

To summarize to those who do not want to click through, a guy has just finished reading Game of Thrones and now wants to watch the HBO series that came out last year.  He checks Netflix only to find it is not available.  The show is listed on iTunes but the actual episodes are not available for two more weeks.  In the mean time they offer free downloads of behind the scenes featurettes.  He checks Amazon but it does not come up in the search there.  (It does now, with a ship date of March 6)  Finally he finds that he can watch it on the HBO website, if he would normally get HBO as a network through his cable provider.  He does not get cable so he's left Abosultely No Choice!   He just has to download it illegally.

And this frustrates me on so many levels.  Simply if he wanted to watch the show he has multiple ways he can do so.  He can become a cable subscriber.  He gives money for a service, specifically the freedom to watch some programs when they are first released.  With the addition of a DVR, he can watch them whenever he likes once they've aired.  Alternatively he can wait until they become available on iTunes and purchase them there.  Or he order them on Amazon, provided he can wait a few weeks for them to become available.  I even wager that Netflix DVD service will have them intially available about the same time.

Of course all of these options require that he either pay for a service or he wait for them to become available to him based on what he's willing to pay for.  This, to him and many others, is simply unacceptable.  He wants, nay he deserves to be able to watch that program right now.

In other discussions I've seen it proposed that a movie be available across all platforms at once.  When it hits theaters, it also hits DVDs, it hits internet streaming and it hits On Demand programming.  Of course you pay more for the DVD on release date, with this program, than you would waiting the customary 9-18 months for the DVD release.  Why?  Because you're getting a form of premium.  You get to see the movie right away without going to the theater.  Makes sense doesn't it?  That if you want to be among the first to get something that you pay for it?

But how is that different than what's happened with GoT and HBO?  I subscribe to HBO through my cable provider because, yes, we get cable.  We keep getting cable because it's a service we use; there are programs that are available in a timely fashion through cable that we like to watch and so we pay for it.

Artists, regardless of medium, deserve to get paid for their work.

Artists, regardless of medium, should not be forced to give their work away for free.

I've often seen the various trade organizations and legal teams make the case of the shoplifted DVD as a case against downloads.  We all know it's wrong to try to walk out of a store with a DVD under our coat, why do we think illegally downloading a movie is any different?  And to be honest coming from someone who gets to fly to Washington on a private jet to talk about how he hates being stolen from makes my skin crawl.

And quite often the defense of torrents and illegal downloads is that "I can't get it any other way".  It's a show on a network that local cable won't carry.  It's a movie that is banned in my country because of a repressive regime.  It's a movie that simply isn't in production on DVD anymore.

But this case with the Oatmeal is even less sympathetic.  It's a show that did air in his country of origin (assuming the comic is American).  It's a show that will be available in a few weeks on multiple platforms from BR DVD through iTunes streaming.  It's a show that is available right now if he signs up for a service that will provide it, though such a service is expensive comparatively speaking.

So we're supposed to be sympathetic that he's breaking the law because none of those solutions are acceptable.

It's the kid that was offered a chance to earn money shoveling driveways to buy his favorite movie on DVD. But that's too much work.  So he was offered a chance to save his allowance for a month to buy the movie.  But that's going to take too long.  He was offered to get the movie free as a birthday present, but he didn't want it then.  So, instead, he's just going to put it in his pocket right now and walk out with it.

I won't even try to say that it's a costly crime.  I won't even say that any one involved with Game of Thrones knows or cares if a dozen, if a hundred, heck if a thousand DVD's are stolen.  The show is going to sell far more copies than that and I do believe that the vast majority of those involved were fairly compensated for their troubles.

But getting back to me, (and it is all about me, isn't it, dear reader?) I started with my thoughts on why I DRM'd my humble little novel, one that will be lucky to sell 100 copies.  For me every time someone forwards the unprotected file to a friend, it would be one less royalty.  The eBook is priced at $3.99, less then a Starbuck's coffee.  However, the responses I've seen to that comic only make me even more sure I did the right thing putting DRM on it.  The attitude seems to be ever-growing:  I want what I want when I want it, and I deserve to have it, Right Now.

Which is an attitude I not only fail to understand but completely reject.  Art is work.  And those who produce it should decide how it is shared, no one else.

No one else.

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