Today's article in the Financial Times titled Studios push anti-piracy rules on Apple reports that the studios are pushing for tighter copy-controls on Apple's iTunes movie distributions. They write:
After months of discussion, a sticking point has emerged over the studios' demand that Apple limit the number of devices that can use a film downloaded from iTunes.
And in the very next paragraph, FT.com states that the studios want to avoid piracy–demanding that Apple introduce a new distribution model for movies.
As a bit of background, currently, music downloaded from the iTunes store can be copied to at most five authorized computers (computers all purchasing music with the same iTunes account), synchronized with an unlimited number of iPods, shared via streaming with five other computers on the same network within 24 hours, and the same playlist of tracks can be burned seven times to a standard CD format and ripped to remove any of these copy restrictions. Video bought from the iTunes store, on the other hand, cannot be streamed to other computers, nor can it be burned to a standard physical media to be played in a DVD player or other digital device. The point is, even though music is fairly locked down via the iTunes service, control over video is already considerably more restrictive.
And the studios are asking for tighter controls.
If the reason for this additional control is out of a concern for piracy, where is the piracy of iTunes distributed video? If there were evidence, surely we would see how-tos posted on the front page of Digg, Slashdot, or any number of Mac websites. But we haven't seen that–not for iTunes at least. If mass infringement of iTunes movies or music downloads exists–I would like to see FT.com's substantive report because one of PK's long-lasting arguments has been that if you provide consumers a flexible product at a fair price, infringing copies becomes negligible.
Regardless of whether this was the studios' spin or the FT.com's failure to ask more engaging questions–it all comes back to that ole red herring of piracy. Read carefully, though. What the article says is: “…studios' demand that Apple limit the number of devices that can use a film downloaded from iTunes.” If FT.com's reporting is correct, the studios aren't so concerned about piracy–they're obsessed with control over every miniscule consumer use of legally obtained content. Their concern is the same with the broadcast flag, radio flag, analog hole solution, crippled Zune-3-days-or-3-plays-Wifi-music-sharing, etc. It's not about piracy, it's about limiting what consumers can do with the content they've legally obtained in the privacy of their own home (or personal network), all in the name of copyright.
Unfortunately, we expect this spin from the content industry, but we should expect more from journalists who report on this market. Why didn't FT.com ask the studios about what consumers want and expect of their downloadable media? Isn't this one of the key factors in driving demand for products in a market place? Shouldn't the viability of a more restrictive product or service be questioned? Shouldn't those with a track record of fighting new business models and technological innovation be held to account for their “piracy” claims?
It would be useful for FT.com to go back to those studio representatives and ask the more important questions, instead of falling for the ole piracy schtick.