Seldon Matrix

Blog de opinión sobre política, religión, fútbol, y otras cosas

off
abril 5, 2010 Uncategorized

Thoughts on Apple products, and a Proposal for a Better DRM

Dear Reddit:

Sorry for the blogspam. My post ended being too long for a self in Reddit (which is what I originally tried). However, I wanted to share this with you, and would appreciate your feedback, which is why I posted this here, in my personal blog, where it fits. I hope you understand that any karma matter less to me than your feedback, constructive criticism, proposals for improvement, and help getting the message through. We really need to work on getting our rights from the media providers. Here is my proposal, and I hope to hear from you, either here, or in the submission’s comment area. Thank you for reading!

————–

I have an iPhone, a MacBook Pro, an Airport Express and even an Apple TV. I love them. All of them. They are great. They do exactly what I want them to do without too much trouble. I didn’t even feel the need to jailbreak my iPhone as, for what I am using it, it is perfect as it is.

I don’t understand the Apple hating around here (in Reddit). People talk about “closed platforms” and “corporate control” but, how is this different from what Microsoft, or Google, or Nokia, or Sony, or LG have to offer? Sure, Google’s Android is an Open system but the device itself isn’t, and there are still some restrictions put in by the networks (such as AT&T and Verizon), so, why the hate? It’s not like the grass is greener elsewhere.

I think that people are so mad at Apple because they keep expecting them to be more awesome than they already are. They are awesome enough to sell over 300,000 iPads in the first day of sales (plus whatever they pre-sold, plus whatever they will sell int he following days). How many tablets have sold as well as the iPad? FT is calling the device a “dissapointment” but, seriously, compared to what?

Despite all of its shortcomings, Apple’s products are still the best out there and that’s why people pay a premium price for them. If you are too cheap to pay premium price, then it isn’t the product’s fault. If the device doesn’t do what you want it to do, then stop complaining and buy something else. Seriously.

However, it is true, Apple isn’t without its shortcomings. The main one, and I think people will agree with me, is DRM and the iTunes Store. People complain too much about DRM, but, in my opinion, they don’t offer any realistic solutions in which everybody wins. Whether we want it or not, the MPAA and the RIAA own most of the content we love. We can have an opinion on whether this is right or wrong, but the opinion doesn’t change reality. They own it. Of course, we would like some freedom, but they invested in the content and they would want some return on that investment. Apple, as a middle man, would also like a little bit of the profit. How can we all get our slice of the pie? Right now, only Apple and the content-owners are getting what they want while we, the consumers, are being left behind. How do we get back in the game and gain a spot in the negotiating table.

In my opinion, the first step is to have a proposal. “Demanding” freedoms through posts in places like Reddit isn’t going to help. We need to tell them what we want, why we want it, and how they benefit from giving it to us. What follows is an articulation of my proposal that includes all of this. We then have to make them know it and read it. In this I am powerless, but I hope someone around here will know what to do in terms of publishing this in the right place, maybe sending an email or a snail mail letter to someone who will read it and make a difference. Of course, what follows is only my proposal. My intention in posting it here is, not only to find someone who can transmit it to the right person, but also to seek enrichment and constructive criticism of the proposal to make it better.

So, here we go. This is my proposal:

————–

Dear Apple, MPAA, RIAA, application developers, book publishers, and other digital content owners and creators:

I don’t like stealing. It is wrong and I prefer to buy stuff. Buying stuff is also beneficial for me because it gives me a feeling of satisfaction, to own something I didn’t previously had. Acquiring things, having them, and being able to share them with people I cherish, is a natural goal of any human being.

The problem with acquiring digital media the legal way (your way) is that it steals me of the experience of cherishing it with the people I am close too. If I buy a book off a shelf in a bookstore, I can read it, then talk about how great it is to a friend, then lend him the book, with all of it being 100% legal. If, instead, I purchase a book on the iBook Store, or on the Kindle Store, I can read it, talk about how great it is to a friend, and then tell him to buy it for himself because I can’t lend him the book. Same goes with movies, music, games, and other digital media.

When I was growing up, I became Michael Jackson’s biggest fan. I’ve bought “Thriller”, the album, at least 5 times now. Once in a casette, once in a CD, once in iTunes, again in a CD for a special edition, and again in a CD that also had a DVD, the day he died. I became such a huge fan because my uncle lent me a video of “Thriller”. If my uncle had bought the video in the iTunes Store for his iPad, he never would have been able to lend me the video, I would have never seen it (and since I am in Mexico, I am, really, not exaggerating here) in my youth, and I would’ve never bought so many MJ music and merchandise. Because, yes, I also bought all of his albums at least once (some of them more than once), I bought his video game, his movies, and I even travelled all the way to Disneyland to see his 3D movie. Please, understand, I didn’t pirate them, copied them, or stole them: **I bought them**. Sharing made it all possible. Do you really want to kill this money-making magic by imposing such strict content restrictions?

I know what you are afraid of. You are afraid that without restrictions, someone will buy your content and then copy it until no one else buys it. You are afraid of losing too much with a world were restrictions do not exist. It is a valid fear. However, I think you should also be afraid of a world were too many restrictions drive people to look for alternatives. Buying is easier and more satisfying than stealing. Torrenting movies is hard for most people, brings uncertainty in the quality of the video downloaded, and may expose my system to unwanted viruses. I can’t speak for everyone but, at least I avoid torrenting whenever possible and when I do, I do it only because you leave me no other choice. Either the content is not available where I live, or it won’t work in my system, or I can’t share it with someone I love and want to share it with. Everyone in the world with a basic knowledge of the Internet has done it at least once in our lives. We don’t like it, but there is no alternative. Think about it. Too many restrictions make you lose profit as well. You should be, at least, as afraid of this as you are of a scenario where no restrictions exist.

So, what should you do? I think you should think of a middle ground. A world with some restrictions that assure you still get paid, but that doesn’t drive the rest of us looking for cover elsewhere. What follows is a list of rights consumers of content expect, and a strategy proposal that allows you to give these rights to us, while still making some money:

1.- The Right to Lend.

When I buy a game for my console or PC, a book, a CD, a DVD or a Blu-Ray Disc, I can always give the media to a friend for him to enjoy in his system. He’ll use it, and then give it back. So, why can’t we do this with our files?

I know what you fear. You fear that creating one copy will lead to the creation of infinite copies that will stop people from buying from you. Here is how you protect yourself from this scenario:

When I lend a book, or a movie, or a game to a friend, I lose the ability to use my copy. The same can be true of files. Also, I expect my copy back sometime soon. In fact, you can actually help us out by enforcing the return timeline. I still have books that have never returned after being lent to friends. You can help me get them back with an enforcement policy on said files. The iTunes video rental system already has this technology in place. You only need to extend this power to us, for apps, for books, for video too. Simply allow me to type in the iTunes account or email address of my friend, and automatically I lose the ability to see the file while he or she gains the ability to use it, for a limited time, for free. After the time expires, control of the file returns to me and he or she loses it. It isn’t hard to implement, and it is a fair deal. It also hurts you not at all.

For music, iTunes already sells non-DRM music. However, the devices (iPods, iPhones, and AppleTVs) are locked in such a way that I cannot send a music file to a friend for him to listen while I do. Microsoft already has this implemented in its Zune device. They can send a music file that we both can enjoy at the same time, and the shared file expires after a few hours, and there is a limit in how many people can be using the file simultaneously. Right now, I can enable my iTunes Account in five computers, so five people can enjoy my music and video files at the same time in different machines. Why not just extend this to include iPods and iPhones and do it wirelessly? The control is still there, but now I can share my music and my videos, and have a shared exprience with friends and family about the media I am consuming.

2.- The right to create a back-up.

We are afraid of losing our stuff. We should be able to make copies of our files so that we never lose the things that we paid for. Of course, for music and videos this is very easy to do in a Mac or PC. For things we buy using iPhone/iPod/iPad apps it is harder (these include books and games). The easiest way to implement this is for you to allow a re-download from things we’ve already bought. You may limit the number of re-downloads we have, or you could charge a “lost media fee”, a cheaper, symbolic price (maybe $0.01) for it. It doesn’t hurt you one bit, but it sweetens the deal for us big time.

3.- The right to play in multiple platforms.

Today I have a bunch of DVDs. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve bought the “Ghostbusters” movie. And I can’t tell you how I feel after spending $30 bucks on a new movie and then finding out I can’t play it the way I want it played. In this particular case, a friend gave me a Blu-ray disc as a gift. I don’t own a blu-ray, I own an Apple TV. It would be nice if I could download the movie and see it in my Apple TV instead. Otherwise, my friend just spent $30 on something I won’t enjoy.

And what happens if, today I have an iPhone, but tomorrow I want to buy a different brand? Non-DRM music and MP3s allow me to take my music through multiple phones and devices. What about my books, my movies and Videos? For books, this is specially important because if I buy a real book (which sometimes is actually cheaper to do), it doesn’t care what kind of phone I have, I can still read it. If, instead, I buy a book off the iPad-store, I can only read it in my iPad. If I buy it from the Kindle store, I am better off because I can read it in a Kindle device, and also in my iPhone through the Kindle App, and in the iPad through the Kindle App, and if Amazon ever creates an App for another device, I will be able to read my book in there as well. But I would still be Amazon-dependent.

I don’t want to depend on a middle man (be it a device maker or a software maker) to enjoy my content. My license should include a right for me to transfer my media to another device. This can be easily implemented too. I could simply enter the ISBN (for a book), or the movie title (for a movie) to the new device, or the app name (for apps) and automatically, you can rescind all my rights on the content on the previous device and give me the files and their rights for the new device. Why not?

Today, I achieve some of this functionality through third-party software that transforms one format to another. This software isn’t always reliable and is always expensive. So, maybe, instead you can charge me a “transfer fee”, again, a symbolic, small fee ($0.01)? for the transfer. I would pay it if it was a small fee, since I already pay for a transfer by buying software.

4.- The right to re-sell.

When I was growing up, I had a Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). I had 3 games. They were never the same game. You see, my dad wouldn’t buy me games as often as I’d like. Instead, he’d make me save money from my allowance for me to buy them. This gave me a savings ethic that made me a successful man. Surely, this is a value that we all want to pass to our children.

But of course, my allowance was very small, and games were very expensive. So, how did I afford them? I sold the games I didn’t want anymore.

The corner-store down the street, something similar to a 7-11, had used-video game section. You could buy used games for 50% of retail price, or you could give your used game and pay 10% of retail and get a new game. I did this at least once a month. Sometimes, when a really good game was coming out (in my case, it was Super Mario 3), I would save extra, and sell a used game to a friend, and with what I earned and what I’ve saved, I’d buy the original version. Selling used games, used videos, used books, and used comic books helps the industry grow, because it helps consumers finance new acquisitions. It is a market you should have an interest in keeping vibrant.

However, how are you going to make money off a used-file market? Well, you could control it.

Remember how I suggested a loan system for e-books, e-movies, e-videos and apps? You could use the same idea to power a used-file market. You could charge a base price of $1, which you keep for yourself, and in exchange, buyers of content through the iTunes store or similar platforms can use the system to re-sell their used content. Sellers lose their rights over the file (and even the file itself), buyers pay discount for a file they want, you earn $1 per transaction, and sellers make some money which they can use to buy more content. This is exactly what happens in the real life market of used media. You could control and power a used market for digital media and profit from it, too.

5.- The right for international content consumption.

When I was growing up, Mexico was living its worst financial crisis. Some products, such as milk and sugar, where sometimes scarce. Fortunately for me, in my hometown the economy was virtually dollarized. Anyone working for a trans-national company, or working for import/export companies, or an owner of such a company, or a supplier for such a company, earned income in dollars. Also fortunate for me, the US-Mexico border was less than 200 miles aways.

Every weekend, I am not exaggerating, my family and I went to Laredo, TX. and in the United States, bought our milk, sugar, and other groceries. And yes, we also bought movies, videos, magazines, and books.

Pretty soon the government liberalized trade, and people started to put businesses in my hometown where the premise of the business was to bring the US goods for you. They would go to the same stores we went, buy the product, and sell it to us for a premium. The advantage was that we didn’t have to spend so much in gas, and we could get a lot more products. This is how I bought my “Independence Day” DVD, region 1, in Mexico. Most, if not all, my DVDs are Region 1. Most of them are also bought in Mexico, where the DVD region should be “4”.

To me, the fact that I live outside the United States doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t be able to consume American media. I am a Jon Stewart fan, a Star Wars fan, a Star Trek fan, and I want to be able to see American movies, TV shows, and read American books. The bookstore down the corner has books in English. They buy them off Barnes and Noble and then bring them here to Mexico for me to buy. I pay in pesos and buy them in Mexico.

My purchasing of this content makes you richer. Why don’t you allow me to buy, then, products from the iTunes Store in my home country? Why can’t I rent movies, or purchase them, or purchase some songs and albums in the Mexican iTunes Store? Why does the new agreement for the US iTunes Store says that Apple can use technology to detect whether or not I am enjoying my movie outside the US and gives them the power to erase the file from my computer, or ban me from the store? Why is it that I can buy a US-made book in a Mexican store, but I can’t buy a US-made file in a Mexican digital store? It is pure non-sense.

Getting dollars is also not a problem for me. I have a US bank account, and I can get dollars to it very easily. Why, then, do you want to restrict what I can buy? I understand if you want to charge more in different countries than in others, but banning products all together? Non-sense! Since when are you in the business of *reducing* your market potential?

Also, without the movies and the music, owning an iPhone or an iPad lacks any sense. This means that by creating a media black-out in foreign countries, you are guaranteeing that foreign device owners are pirates. And as I understand, Apple sells a lot of iPhones and iPods, and plans to sell many iPads, overseas as well.

Finally, the Kindle Store (Amazon) has no problem with me purchasing books from them while I am in Mexico. In fact, I pay them with my Mexican credit card and I get a US-digital book in English. They don’t care. Why do you? Do you want me to go to Amazon, or worse yet, to BitTorrent, for my media?

**In conclusion**, the above represent a list of rights we, content-consumers, expect from our media. Because we are not getting these rights right now, many consumers are looking for alternatives, such as piracy or cracking software. We don’t like these alternatives. We would prefer to buy from you, as you would. So, you giving us these rights is a win-win for both of us. I have presented a way in which you could give us these rights while retaining certain controls that prevent piracy, thus enhancing consumer experience. There is no reason why you shouldn’t give us these rights. What are you waiting for?

————–

Redditors, this is it. I remember a few years back, Apple negotiated hard with the music companies for DRM-free music in exchange for a RIAA-controlled pricing system. When there is a win-win scenario, companies will go for it. I think that what I present here helps Apple, the MPAA, the RIAA, developers and publishers. It also helps us, consumers.

Do you think we can add/improve on this letter? Do you think we should send it to someone that can make a difference? Do you know who that someone should be? If so, please contribute!

Thank you for your time and attention in reading such a long post.