Shuttleworth Joins Anti-DRM Chorus

Africa’s first astronaut and open source supporter Mark Shuttleworth, the man with the money behind Ubuntu Linux, has added his voice to the growing choir of senior executives calling for the end of digital rights management.

It is a good piece and worth the read, even if there is not much new.

Diagnosis Correct. Cure?

Mark Shuttleworth is a can-do, solutions oriented kind of guy. I greatly admire what he is doing (making Linux, formerly The OS Only A Geek Could Truly Love, into The OS that You Can Love if You Hate Windows But Can’t Stomach OS X). Truth is, I’ve got Ubuntu running alongside OS X on my Macintosh for no better reason than to support what Shuttleworth is doing.

What I would have expected from someone with his entrepreneurial drive and technical acumen is something more than “DRM sucks – deal with it, entertainment business.” I would have hoped he’d at least start to focus on possible ways for artists – and maybe a few entertainment companies – to continue making a living in a world where they’re being asked up their last stitch of property protection.

No Pay, No Play

Nobody really likes DRM. Nothing pisses me off more, for example, than the fact that all of the DVDs I purchased in Australia are unreadable on my region 1 encoded computers. Note, if you will, that I (or someone) paid full retail price for every DVD I own. I’m fine with not buying pirated DVDs here in China, and I’m even okay with avoiding DVD shops here because you really never know what’s legit and what isn’t. But I’m pissed off that if I go to an HMV in Hong Kong or Singapore or Japan and buy legit DVDs there, I can’t play them.

But I understand why those things are there. And I also understand that if you walk up to an artist or an entertainment executive and say “look, you need to throw all of your work out into the public domain, like shareware, and put everyone on the honor system to pay for it,” they’re going to throw you a right hook, and rightfully so.

Stop the Posturing

When people get scared – or feel threatened – the automatic reaction is to put the wagons into a circle, or create what the voortrekkers of Shuttleworth’s native South Africa once called a laager. The entertainment business is scared. The wagons are in a circle, the lawyers at the ready.

What needs to happen is for somebody with vision and intelligence to step forward and start talking about transition, a way to put the entertainment industry on a path to wean them from DRM, but at the same time to come up with other stuff that lots of people will pay for around the music, television, film, and other works that are no longer protected.

There’s going to be no silver bullet. It’s going to be a lot of different business models in the end, but you aren’t going to get from here to there by waving a scary future in the face of everyone in the entertainment industry around the world.

Great post, Mark. Nice Op-Ed, Steve Jobs. Get DOWN on your bad selves.

Now, enough with the posturing – and that goes double for the suits at the RIAA and the MPAA. It’s time to start building bridges to the future.

Let’s get on it.


About David Wolf

An adviser to corporations and organizations on strategy, communications, and public affairs, David Wolf has been working and living in Beijing since 1995, and now divides his time between China and California. He also serves as a policy and industry analyst focused on innovative and creative industries, a futurist, and an amateur historian.
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