May 21, 2018

Archives for May 2008

DRM Not Dead, Just Temporarily Indisposed, Says RIAA Tech Head

The RIAA’s head technology guy says that the move away from DRM (anti-copying) technology by record labels is just a phase, according to a Greg Sandoval story at News.com:

“(Recently) I made a list of the 22 ways to sell music, and 20 of them still require DRM,” said David Hughes, who heads up the RIAA’s technology unit, during a panel discussion at the Digital Hollywood conference. “Any form of subscription service or limited play-per-view or advertising offer still requires DRM. So DRM is not dead.”

Last January, when Sony BMG became the last major recording company to sell DRM-free tracks at Amazon, plenty of observers considered the technology buried. Since then, a growing number of online stores have begun offering at least some open MP3s, including Walmart.com, Zune’s Marketplace, Amazon, as well as iTunes.

Not so fast, said Hughes, who predicted that DRM would reemerge in a big way. “I think there is going to be a shift,” he told the audience. “I think there will be a movement towards subscription services, and (that) will eventually mean the return of DRM.”

The imminent success of subscription services with DRM is more or less what the record industry was predicting several years ago. It didn’t happen, mostly because customers found the services clunky and inflexible – DRM at its worst. Nothing has changed to make DRMed subscription services more attractive. If anything, these services look even worse in light of the trend toward selling DRM-free tracks.

I can see the argument for selling large bundles of music rather than selling one track at a time. Bundling makes economic sense, given the huge storage capacity of today’s devices. The iPod of the future won’t be filled one track at a time.

But clunky DRM-based subscription services aren’t the only way to sell bundles of songs, and there are probably good ways to sell subscriptions without DRM. If you’re worried that a customer will subscribe for one month, download a zillion songs, cancel the subscription and keep the songs,then you can limit the number of downloads per month, or require a longer subscription period. If you can sell songs without DRM – and we know now that you can – there ought to be a way to sell a friendly subscription service too.

On this issue, the RIAA’s members may be ahead of the RIAA itself. There are encouraging signs that some of the major record companies are recognizing the need to rebuild their business strategy for the Internet era.

Stupidest Infotech Policy Contest

James Fallows at the Atlantic recently ran a reader contest to nominate the worst public policy decision of the past fifty years. (<a href="http://jamesfallows.theatlantic.com/archives/2008/05/stupidest_policy_ever_contest_1.php"The winner? Ethanol subsidies.) I’d like to do the same for technology policy.

Readers, please submit your suggestions for the stupidest infotech policy ever. An ideal submission is an infotech policy that (1) was established by a government, (2) did serious damage, (3) had wide support across the political spectrum, (4) failed for reasons that should have been obvious at the time, (5) failed even by the standards of its own supporters. It’s not enough that you would have chosen differently, or that you would have weighed competing public goods differently – we’re looking for a policy that no reasonable person, with the benefit of hindsight, would support.

Submit your suggestions in the comments. Once the discussion has died down, I’ll choose a winner. If this contest is successful, we’ll follow it up with a best policy contest.

30th Anniversary of First Spam Email; No End in Sight

Today marks the 30th anniversary of (what is reputed to be) the first spam email. Here’s the body of the email:

DIGITAL WILL BE GIVING A PRODUCT PRESENTATION OF THE NEWEST MEMBERS OF THE DECSYSTEM-20 FAMILY; THE DECSYSTEM-2020, 2020T, 2060, AND 2060T. THE DECSYSTEM-20 FAMILY OF COMPUTERS HAS EVOLVED FROM THE TENEX OPERATING SYSTEM AND THE DECSYSTEM-10 (PDP-10) COMPUTER ARCHITECTURE. BOTH THE DECSYSTEM-2060T AND 2020T OFFER FULL ARPANET SUPPORT UNDER THE TOPS-20 OPERATING SYSTEM. THE DECSYSTEM-2060 IS AN UPWARD EXTENSION OF THE CURRENT DECSYSTEM 2040 AND 2050 FAMILY. THE DECSYSTEM-2020 IS A NEW LOW END MEMBER OF THE DECSYSTEM-20 FAMILY AND FULLY SOFTWARE COMPATIBLE WITH ALL OF THE OTHER DECSYSTEM-20 MODELS.

WE INVITE YOU TO COME SEE THE 2020 AND HEAR ABOUT THE DECSYSTEM-20 FAMILY AT THE TWO PRODUCT PRESENTATIONS WE WILL BE GIVING IN CALIFORNIA THIS MONTH. THE LOCATIONS WILL BE:

TUESDAY, MAY 9, 1978 – 2 PM
HYATT HOUSE (NEAR THE L.A. AIRPORT)
LOS ANGELES, CA

THURSDAY, MAY 11, 1978 – 2 PM
DUNFEY’S ROYAL COACH
SAN MATEO, CA
(4 MILES SOUTH OF S.F. AIRPORT AT BAYSHORE, RT 101 AND RT 92)

A 2020 WILL BE THERE FOR YOU TO VIEW. ALSO TERMINALS ON-LINE TO OTHER DECSYSTEM-20 SYSTEMS THROUGH THE ARPANET. IF YOU ARE UNABLE TO ATTEND, PLEASE FEEL FREE TO CONTACT THE NEAREST DEC OFFICE FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT THE EXCITING DECSYSTEM-20 FAMILY.

This is relatively mild by the standards of today’s spam. The message announced legitimate events relating to legitimate products in which the recipients might plausibly be interested. The sender was apparently unaware that this kind of message was against the rules.

Yet this message has much in common with today’s spam. The message used ALL CAPS, which was more common in those days but not the universal practice for email. The list of recipients was long. The message was incorrectly formatted – the original had more recipients than the email software of the day could handle, so what was supposed to be the recipient list actually spilled over into the body of the email, apparently unnoticed by the sender.

At the time, the Net’s rules forbade commercial activity, so the message was against the rules. Beyond the rule violation,the message’s propriety was widely questioned, and people debated what to do about it. (Brad Templeton has posted parts of the debate.)

Thirty years later, there is more spam than ever and no end is in sight. This shouldn’t be surprising, because the spam problem is fundamentally driven by economics. If anyone can send to anyone, and the cost of sending is nearly zero, many messages will be sent. Distinguishing unwanted email from wanted email is notoriously difficult – often you have to read a message to decide whether reading it was a waste of time. In this environment, spam will be a fact of life. The surprise, if anything, is that we have done as well as we have in coping with it.