March 26, 2017

DMCA Week: Predictions Are Hard, Especially about the Future

My previous post on DVD jukeboxes has prompted an interesting discussion among our commenters. There seems to be a lively difference of opinion about how useful a DVD jukebox would be, what it would look like, and who would use it. Personally, I had envisioned a high-end video device that DVD collectors would buy to help them organize their libraries. But some commenters pointed out something I hadn’t thought of: a DVD jukebox—either a set-top device or a portable one—would be a godsend to parents with small children. Children not only like to watch the same video repeatedly, but they’re also far more likely to damage a DVD. Having a sealed, rugged hard drive on which to store a few dozen of junior’s favorite movies seems like it would be extremely convenient.

Of course, I don’t really know. Maybe parents already have devices that fill this need. Maybe the devices would be too expensive or too fragile. But that’s why we have markets: so people can try things to see what works.

It’s worth remembering that new technologies almost always wind up having a “killer app” that their creators didn’t expect. The creators of the Internet didn’t have email in mind, but it was the dominant Internet application by the mid-70s. Visicalc, the first spreadsheet, wasn’t on Steve Wozniak’s radar when he built the Apple II. And Apple didn’t invent podcasting, although they were smart enough to jump on the bandwagon relatively quickly once other people did.

None of these applications could have been developed if the technologies on which they relied hadn’t already been created. But if you’d tried to explain what the Internet, the microcomputer, or the MP3 player was good for before you could create the first one, you wouldn’t have been able to make a very convincing argument. I think the same is true of the kind of products we’d see if DVD ripping were legal. I’m pretty confident that we’d have some useful new technologies, but I can’t say exactly what they’d be.

This is one of the reasons I think DMCA supporters are wrong to point to the DMCA’s triennial review process as mitigating the DMCA’s negative effect on technological progress. The triennial process requires entrepreneurs to explain in advance how a given act of circumvention will benefit society. If we’d held the inventors of the Internet, the personal computer, or the MP3 player to that standard, we might not have any of those technologies.


  1. SaveMyKidsFromBoredom says:

    Have you ever heard of a PMP (portable media player). iPods aren’t just for music anymore. In a world where media companies wanted to build markets, rather than sue their customers, a parent would be able to take the DVD they watch in the living room into the SUV/minivan, by moving the data to a PMP and pluging it into the stereo with Rear seat video screens and play back their stuff on the road. I mean come on this isn’t rocket science, and how many people have kids? It’s a huge opportunity that the media producers are missing out on in the name of attempting to CONTROL user behavior.

    • SaveMyKidsFromBoredom says:

      so the common argument is how to make money from an open format that can be easily copied. Well, it’s all about scarcity. Anyone who has kids, of any age, knows that the music/movie is the tip of the iceberg. If Disney were to give away their movies do you think sales in their stores would plummet? I am still buying merchandise for Toy Story (bought 11 years ago), I’ve bought easily 20 clothing/toy items in the past week. Why? Because my kids watched the movie, and continue to. If there is no scarcity, the only way to build demand is through legislation. Hence, strong anti-Fair Use legislation for IP that preserve business models, creating artificial scarcity for product that, in the digital age, have an essentially infinite supply. The DMCA is corporate welfare and we are the money train.

    • Save MyKidsFromBoredom says:

      I would posit as a closing thought that the problem, probably the insurmountable problem, with the structure of the artist / producer / distributor / rights groups is the interplay between the distributors and the rights groups. They are organized and highly effective at manipulating the legislative process. Artists and producers to a lesser extent are at the mercy of the distribution and rights groups because they currently control the money. There is a long history of labels taking advantage of artists and rights groups failing to pay royalties. That’s because they have a legal advantage (more money for lawyers and legislative influence) and an education advantage. Hopefully artists will look at Trent Reznor and other creative businesses and realize that they can realize greater financial reward by leveraging the business model that makes distributors and rights groups less or unimportant and simultaneously lessening or removing the financial drains that they bring.

      Regardless, I still buy my DVDs and tote them around. Because I have kids I also don’t have the time to mess around with circumvention.

    • Anonymous says:

      There shouldn’t be much of a technical challenge for building a PMP capable of taking some rough handling. SSDs and flash drives remove the need for moving parts (with the exception of keyboard/controls) and the limited use scenario means that there is no need for suitability for a more general use. Most parts do not need to be replaced by users, so the structure can be closed and stabilized and fortified through pretty much any means necessary (sans actual need like conducting heat out). You could protect the display with thick, hard plastic and have air-tight, rubberized hard shell on the rest of the device. The motherboard could be mostly coated with epoxy or something to further harden against against damage and fill the remaining empty space inside the shell with foam or something.

      It might be more of a challenge to get companies to make them. Engineering ethics isn’t exactly valued nowadays, whereas squeezing every last cent is. Quality manufacturers building quality products is always going to be more expensive than el-cheapo manufacturers building shoddy products. I mean, if you think of most electronics today, probably all of the components could be exchanged for a slightly more expensive and higher quality components. The designs could be changed to be more robust rather than trying to save in 1.50 worth of components. Given a choice, the consumer might want to choose a gadget that is more likely to last 5 years longer for a few more dollars. However, this is not possible since companies like to compete with price. They also like to simultaneously maximize their profit margin so even small costs get inflated, driving the price up further.
      Of course, customers being used to everything being somewhat shoddy products regardless of marketing, there might be problems in trying to justify the cost to them…

  2. I couldn’t help noticing you’ve been misspelling the word weak.

  3. Making something rugged isn’t really that hard — there have been portable jukeboxes for music for how long? The problem is getting stuff you want onto the jukebox, which either requires buying specially-coded content (tv shows and movies for your ipod) or doing your own transcoding and quite probably breaking the law. Hence a kinda smaller market.

  4. A “unit” that held the DVDs would be required by the copyright holders-I agree since none of the copyright holders seem willing, at this time, to allow movies to be “not protected.”

    However, do you think any copyright holder would sue anyone who actually bought the copyrighted material but “ripped” it to watch on their (insert mobile device here)?

    I just can’t see the jury buying the “technical” argument. The purchaser has a license. Is the copyright holder saying that the license that I “purchased’ limits me to the “media content ON the storage media” I purchased or to the “media content” that I purchased that happens to be stored on the storage media that I bought?

    I would buy the DVD unit. I have two kids (both boys), and I think the amount of money saved from having to re-buy DVDs would pay for the “unit.” And if you say that Sony, et al, will replace the media–sure…for $20 bucks or so (sometimes MORE than I paid for the media content AND storage device in the first place)…

  5. “Children not only like to watch the same video repeatedly, but they’re also far more likely to damage a DVD.”

    Very true. One benefit of maltreatment of the physical object by the child is that (a) the child learns something and (b) the overplayed DVD stops getting air time … while this may be a disappointment to the child, I know that I rejoiced several times during my son’s early childhood when particularly noxious videos fell victim.