Scratching my head on these views, and by the way, the picture of this white board was taken using Evernote's document camera mode.isnt she beautiful? 🙂
The first half of the decade, the years 2000-2006 were the years where the legitimate industry bore the brunt of the Piracy onslaught. The legitimate industry simply was too confused as changes were happening at such a rapid level and ordinary users were getting sucked into Piracy, at a growth rate, possibly never seen much, before by mankind.
At that point in time, The industry itself was internally faced by several dilemmas, themselves. It could never bring itself to the fact that things (or media) could be sold entirely in a digital format and believed that users must and should consume legitimate physical products and it was much more legal and ethical. But it failed to realize that content entirely digital had a certain convenience that physical did not provide.
Another possible reason was that physical sales, in the short term were still not being impacted, and switching entirely to digital could hurt physical sales. This dilemma continues even today, and exists in various forms, when one sees the over all ‘Copyright-Piracy’ conflict. This particular issue, i like to refer to as a ‘Seesaw Conundrum’ ( when you try to raise one end for a benefit, you end up losing something on another side). The ‘SeeSaw conundrum‘ in itself, i see as part of a larger ‘External Variable conundrum‘, a phenomenon that is beyond control of an individual or an organization and happens due to the totally diverse and potentially overlapping regions of the Internet.
Another problem faced by the Industry was that if it even decided to move towards a ‘Digital’ only model, as most of them have today, there were no proper digital payment infrastructure in the banking and Economic transaction system, as stable and relatively secure as we see today. Following 2006, Piracy continued to grow even faster, especially when Internet Piracy began to outclass traditional Disc based piracy, but by then the Industry had overcome the early shock and had produced several limited counter attacks and potential ‘Revenue generative’ attempts to fight Piracy on price. While most of them may have produced ‘short term results’, several of them have sunk and are slowly being lost to obscurity.
But amidst all this, one move seems to be clearly one of the tools that the ‘Copyright Industry’ will use as a weapon which is already in contemporary use and which is out to stay in the long term. Although DRM can be used for multiple applications including Audio* and Video**, it is primarily associated with Books.
So, this blog post will focus primarily on how DRM is applied to Books, and try to dissect its role in the phenomenon. Back then, even in the Analog world, Books were duplicated, some through Xerox and some through cheap copies. But the economics of that time meant that only ‘Best sellers’ were likely sold through such counterfeit books. This phenomenon even continues to this day, and one can find cheap copies of such books in M.G.Road or majestic circle. They cost typically around Rs.50-100 and are quite cheap when compared to an original book. The quality of print and paper is typically very poor, and is virtually uncomparable to an original.
But the rate and scale of copying offered by Digital Technology and the sharing infrastructure that the Internet enabled made this a much more serious issue. In all fairness, Book Piracy was relatively low in the ‘2000-06′ era and the brunt was borne by the Movie and the Music Industry. This could be explained by a simple logic that the hardware form factors – be it a Desktop or a Laptop were not suited to reading Books, unlike today’s Ereaders or Tablets.
If one looks at most of the research done over the Internet after spending possibly millions of dollars – inevitably, most of them draw one of these two conclusions – “Piracy boosts Legal sales’, or ‘Piracy destroys Legal sales and costs millions of jobs and millions of dollars in taxes to the Government”. This loop goes on with each new research trying to outprove, its counterpart’s conclusions.
But in an era of 2000-06, it may have made some sense, for the ‘Pro Piracy’ advocates, who said that Pirating book users go on and buy legitimate physical books, because the Pirated copy allowed them to read a sample. The logic may have held water back then. There were also links that this famous author advocated Piracy and said that it boosted his sales. ( I believe it is his official blog).
But today, in a world of EReaders, Tablets and Kindles, it is that much more likely that a pirating Ebook user would pay to buy physical content, because in many ways, the digital experience is much more convenient than the physical one, and how many would want to buy a physical one, which is less convenient, when they get the more convenient digital version for free?
So, this is where DRM comes in. It relies on a logic that a pirated copy will originate from a unencrypted legal Ebook copy, and that is why it needs to have some measures to avoid copy. The logic is good at one level, but fails, because unlike its other cousins, which have almost long since and almost are on the fringe of abandoning physical products, physical books still hold ground. Maybe, there is really is something about Paper.
So, DRM technically stops or makes it difficult for a legal Ebook to be duplicated and pirated, but there is no proven theory that it helps boosts book sales. It is just a ‘Piracy Stopper’, but in no way, unlike say ‘Saavn’ or ‘Moser Baer’ , a revenue generator, which by themselves, become ‘Piracy Stoppers’.
While DRM has to protect the rights of the Copyright Holder by preventing duplication of digital copies, it also has to protect the rights of the buyer, many of whom want the freedoms and flexibility that physical books offer them. So, DRM has to balance the needs of both users. So, let us see, how this works out in today’s Digital ECommerce, App Ecosystem and the Cloud.
Depending on the case, a user may have permanent or temporary access to a Ebook. A user may choose to permanently purchase a copy of a book via Amazon Kindle or Google Play. This entitles them to access the book through their own various stock clients across multiple Operating Systems that ‘sync’ information about the book’s position and gives the user a seamless experience. Another alternative application that DRM offers is similar to renting a physical book from a library. While I am unaware if this feature is available through traditional Ebook stores, it is available if you are a member of the British Library.
Once you pay for an online membership( The Library has several schemes that allow users to rent Physical Books, Optical Media like DVDs, Magazines, Children’s comics etc), the British Library gives the user, the availability of Ebooks that can be rented. The user can choose the book, and click download and which leads to a temporary file that contain metadata like the Date Of Download. This Temporary file can be opened in an ‘Adobe Digital Editions’ Application ( the normal Adobe Reader won’t work), which reads the details in the file and starts the download process of the file. The user will also need to have a registered ‘Adobe Account’. The file is downloaded and can be seen and viewed in the Adobe Digital Editions Application like a normal PDF. The only difference is that after the period ( typically 14 days), the file will stop working, and the user will have to repeat the original process and get a new rental key from the British Library server.
Once the book is purchased, the user can download the book offline on the client. In most cases, a copy of the most updated version of the book rests on the Service’s server. The user has the option to add Annotations, while some services offer a ‘One Touch’ integration to share select ‘quotes’ directly on Twitter and Facebook. The Kindle Edition also offers a direct integration with the Book Review and Dedicated Book Social Media website – Good Reads (?)
once the book is downloaded and authenticated, users can add their notes, bookmarks and highlights. Although, the device gives the appearance of over the top, imprints, it is a digital mirage. The device handles both these info seperately, and only momentarily places the annotations at specific co-ordinates over the book. This is the reason, why an Annotation made in 1 client, when sync’d over the cloud, can be deleted over the other. Users who use the ‘Image Annotation’ Feature in Evernote/Skitch across multiple devices can also understand this concept better.
Citing from the book, Multimedia Systems Design by Prabhat.K.Andleigh & Kiran Thakrar – “Image Annotation can be performed in one of the two ways ; as a text file stored along with the image or as a small image stored within the original image. The annotation is over layed over the original image for display purposes. While this may sound simple enough, it is not without complication. It requires tracking multiple image components associated with a single page, decompressing all of them, and ensuring correct spatial alignment as they are overlayed.”
Once this process is done, the annotated book is sync’d across the cloud. The details of the book can be download on another client via the same process. So, now having described a simple technically on how DRM works, let us consider a Socio-Ethical Debate on where DRM lies today. As with almost every technical development over the Internet, there are Pros and Cons.
As you can see from the graph, the first function that any paying user wishes to have is that all his rights of an Analog book should be translatable in a digital version. The advantages that Digital Technology provides over Analog should be fully available, without any hassles.
On the other side, DRM’s main function is to Stop a legal copy being Pirated. Although, there are other ways how Pirated copies will come out, as explained below, and which is way beyond the scope for DRM to help.
So, in addressing both these world’s, where does DRM fail or where does it Win? Let us consider a small example, of a book that i purchased?
1. Copying of Text – “The need to resort to a song in a given situation is perhaps a continuation of a literature-oriented aesthetic where versification or poetry…” This is a citation from one of the books that i am currently reading. ‘The Eye of the Serpent – An Introduction to Tamil Cinema by Theodore Baskaran”. While the app allows me, a paid user to copy a citation ( which is about 1-2 paragraphs into Evernote, which i index with other data), the app limits the copy to a mere 140 characters. The larger irony is that not even a complete sentence could be copied, and I am not using it for Twitter, for me to limit my text to 140 characters.
So, in the absurd logic that a pirating user may copy away reams of pages, using ‘Copy&Paste’ logic, DRM has put a fix of 140 characters, in the hope that it will be too big for a pirating user to copy a book. Since, it isn’t helping a legally purchased user anyway, i suggest making the copy limit to 14 characters, which will make it 10 times even more tougher for the pirate to copy. It isn’t helping a legal user much, anyways.
2. Intercompatibility of Playback Clients – The beauty of the PDF format was that one need not necessarily use the Adobe Reader to read it. The Foxit reader is faster, consumes less Resources, has more features and is also free like the Adobe. This gives the user the freedom of choice. A similar logic can be applied for movies. Play a movie in VLC, or any other player, which you like.
But DRM sadly is not. In most cases, the DRM implementation is proprietary and not compatible. For instance, if i Purchased a book via Amazon Kindle, and i like the IBooks reader better in the Ipad, i cannot play it. I have to only use the stock Kindle App. Big Nuisance, this is. It gets worse, in other conditions. I like to use the ‘Voice Dream App***’ which is a dedicated player, customized for individuals with ‘Attention and Reading difficulties like i do”. Its ‘TextToSpeech’ is seriously out of the world, and it plays non DRM documents really really well, as if a real Human was reading out to you. But sadly, these DRM books won’t allow you to open in such players.
3. The Monopoly – There have been allegations that when a famous Ebook services company purchased an ‘Audio Book’ company, it purposefully killed its automated ‘TextToSpeech’ app, since now users would be forced to pay for the much higher priced Audio Books, if they wanted to simultaneously access Reading the book, while parallely listening to a Voice reading the book in the background.
So, my conclusion is that while DRM has achieved some of the attributes of a physical book in the digital domain, it has failed strongly when it tries to balance the needs of legitimate Paying users and trying to stop Pirating users. This was an example of the ‘Seesaw Conundrum‘ that i was referring to earlier.
And the larger absurdity of the equation is that as long as Physical Books are in Sale, there are much easier ways to convert a pirated Ebook than to break a DRM code, or manually copy data from a licensed DRM encrypted Ebook. See below.
Audio* – You can locally download a song from a Saavn Server on an Ipad, if you are a Pro user, but cannot offload, like a non DRM’d music single .mp3 file.
Video** – Several YouTube and Google Play files can be cached locally on a device and played, but cannot be removed offline easily.
Voice Dream Reader*** – Under the ‘Book Share’ program, individuals like me are entitled to get limited access to Copyrighted books for a subsidized fee which can be read via the Voice Dream Reader app. I had sent them a link that i would prefer to register under my pseudonym and linked them to my Virtual world accounts, but i got no response. If i have to register my real name to get access, thank you very much. I get enough of Spam already and i have no frickin idea how my personal data will be used.
For long, Pirates who have supported Copyright Infringment have claimed that Information can no longer be monopolized and monetized through Obsolete Copyright and Patent laws in this digital age, but rather, sharing of information only freely only drives the economy further and is beneficial to everybody through cultural exchange. The copyright Industry may not agree to this theory, but right in front of our eyes, we are living and breathing what the pirates claim. The copyright Industry still continues to live in a closed world, refusing to open out and see reality.
Image credits – All individual company logos were downloaded from the Internet using Google Search. The Face icon and the RSS Clipart were downloaded from clipart.org
Publishing Tools like Twitter and Blogs are easily accessible to anyone and with the Internet itself acting as the main distribution medium, the Internet has made possible for anybody to become a Content Publisher and for Consumers to find their Producers, without any hassles. Using RSS feeds, users can automatically subscribe to hundreds of thousands of such websites, and automatically get updates when each of them individually adds or updates content.
This short personal example demonstrates not only the benefits of free sharing, but also the pitfalls of a centralized monopolized system. Last year, when Google announced that it was killing the Google Reader, it killed not just an application but thousands of services built around the Google Reader API. If Google Reader was the only service, then the entire ecosystem would have collapsed. Thankfully, there is so much decentralization in the Internet, that such a thing would never happen.
Services like Feedly and Flipboard and a few smaller services stepped up to replace the Google Reader. In hindsight it may have been a blessing in disguise for small services like Feedly, which may never have been able to compete with giants like Google Reader. Feedly subsequently developed its own cloud infrastructure and now uses Google’s API for authentication.
So, in the small example shown above. When ever, I find an interesting article on the Internet, I add it to the Feedly Cloud, using a small Web Browser Add-On. From there, I have linked my Reeder 2 Ipad App to Feedly, which downloads my daily feeds offline on my Ipad. From this App, I transfer which ever, I feel necessary for permanent storage into my Evernote Account. As an individual that suffers from Attention Deficit Disorder, I use the Voice Dream Reader to import specific notes from Evernote locally into the Voice Dream Reader app which reads out the content for me, automatically, using its inbuilt advanced ‘Text To Speech‘ engine.
There are 2 important aspects here, in this example. It is thanks to RSS, that website feeds can be easily tracked and automated. The Second is a contemporary phenomenon, that is driving tremendous growth across multiple services – Opening out of their individual API’s that can be used as integration with other services. The phenomenon has become so successful that this has led to the evolution of specialist services that link multiple services through API’s like IFTTT ( If This then That.)
The opening out of API represents a modern outlook, which does not fit with what the obsolescent views of the Copyright Industry. From a copyright Industry’s perspective, they wish to block any accesses of information leakage, which they think might reduce their profits. This view of thought positions the producer’s interest first, and the consumer’s next. Modern Internet services think in the opposite direction. By opening out their API, they give other services an opportunity to provide a possible better user experience than their own.This represents the ‘User First, Producer Next’ approach.
For instance, only by connecting the Reeder App to the Feedly Cloud, you can download the articles from the Feedly Cloud into the Reeder App and use it. Since Feedly had its own App, the simplest thing it could have done was close out its API, and force users to read from its own App. This may have yielded short term results, but long term consequences, because if the rest of the ecosystem collapsed, it would take down Feedly along with it. Another prime example of this concept is Evernote. Evernote already has its app for multiple platforms. Yet, it allows other apps to build their own Evernote clients, which could possibly even replace the stock Evernote client, if the user felt that it provided them with a better experience.
This API culture also forces services to remain innovative constantly and compete with their competitors ( although they have symbiotic relationships through their API), rather than fall into a world of complacency and stagnate, thereby providing no value to the end user in the long run, which is something many modern day Pirates accuse the Copyright Industry of doing so.
One can see from the above small example that the same information has flowed through the various pipes, before it reached the hands of the user, only because of the mentality to allow sharing of Information, through API integration. In this process, it has benefitted each entity. The information created by the creators is as much protected by Copyright and Patent Law, as the ones created by big production and media houses. Yet, unlike the former (in most cases), by allowing this information to flow freely, it is creating sustainability for several services that work through this small ecosystem of Information exchange, benefitting the creator, the Intermediaries and the end user, thereby driving Competition, Innovation and the entire Digital Ecosystem forward.
“Spotify really does not compete with Itunes, or with these retail store based services. Spotify directly competes with piracy, we are capturing users out of a piracy based environment and provide them unlimited access of music at their finger tips. They could share and sample music for free.” – Sean Parker, Spotify.
We live in times, where ‘Media Piracy‘ has become a definite ‘Way of life’. The Copyright Industry may not like it, but that is the way, it is. In fact, I’d like to think that ‘Piracy’ is one of the important issues that have emerged, evolved and continues to exist (or resist enforcement) as an important subset of the ‘Open Ecosystem‘ and ‘Digital Economy‘ of contemporary times. That may also be the reason, where you will find a lot of posts associated with ‘Media Piracy’ and ‘Copyright Infringement’ in this blog. It is also one of the main points of focus of my research.
There are two types of approaches used by Copyright Holders to generate returns and address the problem of Piracy – ‘Revenue Enhancer Modes‘ and ‘Piracy Beater Modes‘.( I don’t know if these terminologies have been coined by someone else, but in any case, I think that the names are quite apt.) Revenue Enhancer Modes typically are typically used to maximize profits, while Piracy Beater Modes are used to minimize losses. A Revenue Enhancer mode typically has little or no impact on Piracy, while a Piracy beater mode, if successfully scaled in ‘quantity sold/user views’ can cumulatively become a Revenue Enhancer.
Any business model or legitimate service that typically charges money for the consumption of legitimate copyrighted media content, without having a sizable impact on piracy (or no impact) is called a Revenue Enhancer. A business model or legitimate service that may or may not charge money directly from the user for consumption of legit copyright media, but which has the potential to disrupt the Pirates market is called a Piracy Beater. For e.g Selling a single music album ( consisting of 5 or 6 songs) in Itunes for Rs.100-120 can be called a Revenue Enhancer Mode, where as music subscription services that allow users to listen to music for free on the Internet and allow them to download Unlimited songs/albums for offline hearing at Rs.100-120/month for listening like Saavn, Gaana and Airtel’s Wynk can be an example for Piracy Beater modes.
A legitimate movie disc being sold locally for Rs.30 is an example of a piracy beater but when the same movie is provided online digitally to be viewed at a cost of Rs.30, it is more equivalent to a Revenue Enhancer mode. This differentiation in understanding is important because a physical pirated disc costs Rs.20-30 whereas an online piracy service does not charge the customer any money at all, atleast not directly. So, when a legit provider provides a service online even for as low as Rs.25, it should be considered as a Revenue Enhancer mode.
In today’s times, when the life span of a movie has shrunk down badly, Revenue Enhancers are best employed in the nascent stages of a movie or in the immediate aftermath of a music album’s release. After a certain point in time, ( typically days or weeks, or a month at max for a successful movie) returns from Revenue Enhancer modes start to shrink down. It is during the period of a revenue Enhancer that ‘Anti Piracy‘ activities or ‘Promotional‘ activities for a movie are also at their peak. Once the nascent time period is over, Piracy Beater modes start to become active. Revenue Enhancer modes typically fade into the background, while Piracy beater modes slowly take over. The arrival of Piracy Beater modes co-insides with slowly reducing PR activities and also declining Anti Piracy operations.
Revenue Enhancer Modes try to maximize revenue on a ‘Per Person basis’ while Piracy beater modes attempt to monetize on a ‘Mass Scale‘. More over, Legitimate revenue enhancer modes tend to leave possibilities (unavoidable in a modern Digital World) that can be exploited for infringers or Pirates. ( I plan to do a seperate post on this statement). Attempting to exploit PiracyBeater modes for such digital loop holes yield no additional benefits of any kind and are there fore logically irrelevant.
Revenue Enhancer Modes typically have no competition with Piracy beater modes, although Piracy Beater modes may compete with Revenue Enhancer Modes. For e.g a Legitimate copy of a movie can be seen freely on Youtube. If the same movie is available on other paid platforms like Google Play/Movies or Itunes, most users who have watched the movie for free on Youtube are less likely to watch the movie on the pay to watch services.
One possible exemption to this broad characteristics of Revenue Enhancers and Piracy Beaters might be quick, first time broadcast of new cinema on private satellite TV. These days, first Broadcast on TV typically happens within 1 or 2 months, from the first theatrical release. Traditionally in the pre Internet years, a Tamil movie would be broadcast after a period of 2 years**. There was some sort of a minimum time period back then. With the advent of digital internet piracy, it simply doesn’t make sense to delay broadcast of a movie for so long. More over, in such a spurious environment, where every day gets delayed, the chances of the potential broadcast viewer seeing the movie, through a pirated disc simply increases.
So, modern day broadcast combines the best features of both modes. It attempts to generate revenue by ‘scaling in numbers’, ‘supported by advertisements’, which from the viewer’s point of view is like a Piracy Beater mode*, yet is done as soon as possible, now typically within weeks of a movie launch in Theatres, making it appear like a Revenue Enhancer mode, from the perspective of a Copyright holder.
*Unlike viewing a movie on an Internet service like Youtube, where advertisments are minimal, and the user experience is not disturbed, watching a movie on TV can be quite painful, considering the number of advertisements, played between the movie. No matter what the quality improvements, Broadcast TV it cannot compete with Piracy on the ‘uninterrupted’ front.
** Back in those days, the AD intro would sound, “Indhiya Tholaikaatchigalil mudhan murayaga”. These days it sounds “Thiraikku Vandha Sila Maadhangalile..”
POST UPDATED ON 13-12-2015
Most users who have had the luxury of using any of Apple’s hardware products would definitely recommend it over other Operating Systems. I would make this inference based on a personal experience having used a series of other Tech products across various other Operating Systems and having used just one Ipad Mini – My only Apple device to date. Most users who have had the luxury of using any of Apple’s hardware products would definitely recommend it.
The answer is simple. No matter how complex the ecosystem is, Apple products provide a user experience that few can match. I got my HTC One V, a littler over two years ago. Following the Android Phone, i purchased my first Apple product, an Ipad mini 6 months later.
Barring the huge deviation in cost, what makes Apple products so loved, inspite of several restrictions being placed on its usage both for the developer and the end user, when compared to its other contemporaries?
My guess would probably be this – No matter how complex the ecosystem is, Apple products provide a user experience that few can match. I guess that it probably has to do with Apple being involved with nearly all aspects of Product building – The Hardware design, Software Builds and OS Management. Top to Down in any Apple product, only Apple is involved. More over, the focus on few form factors of each product makes standardization a lot more easier for the developers, so, it may make a lot of integration and compatibility issues a lot more easier could be one more reason.
I got my HTC One V, a littler over two years ago. Six months later, I had an Ipad Mini in my hand. In these 27 months, I have had trouble several times with my Android Phone. Understandably, my Phone has become obsolete long ago, and just the installation or updation of a few Apps can slow down my Phone very much. It also must be mentioned that I do not side load Apps in Android and have always download from the Official Play Store for Android. In these 27 months, I have had trouble several times with my Android Phone. Understandably, my phone has become obsolete long ago, and just the installation of a few apps can slow down my phone very much. Not to mention that although, I do not side load apps in Android and almost always download from the Official Play Store for Android, my phone has become victim of crazy attacks which are most likely due to some Virus/Malware finding its way.
In spite of this, my phone has been a victim of several crazy attacks which are most likely due to some Virus/Malware finding its way. Not to mention the crapware that was PreBundled in the Phone and hogs up so much Storage space and RAM on the phone, and is virtually unremovable. The Ipad Mini on the other hand has been virtually seamless.
But like many out there, I had to literally battle it out with the iconic ‘ITunes Application’. For someone who is used to seamlessly, pushing a mobile device into a USB port and transferring data, I was not ready for ITunes. Much as i read many videos over the Internet and tried my own hands at it, several times, I never understood how ‘ITunes’ was supposed to work. Sometimes, it worked by a Fluke, but i was never able to understand how it did and replicate the procedure. The experience was a real nightmare, in short.
The Ipad Mini on the other hand has been seamless. There is no slow down of the Tablet despite me loading a lot of apps and this may eventually boil down to the seamless tie down of hardware-software Integration that can only be possible with a company that does both. But like many out there, I had to literally battle it out with Itunes. For someone who is used to seamlessly, pushing a mobile device into a USB port and transferring data, I was not ready for Itunes.
Eventually, I came across BitTorrent Sync. BitTorrent Sync is a decentralized Peer2Peer based ‘Skip the Cloud’ syncing software Application that supports a multitude of Desktop and Mobile platforms. The syncing is super fast as there is no centralized cloud server like Dropbox or Google Drive. It is without doubt much more secure and most importantly, there are no limits on how much data can be transferred. The process is also relatively seamless. Best of all, it makes use of the Speed of the Local WiFi network, so speeds are blazingly super fast, unlike the traditional Apps which are limited by the speed of the Internet connection.
Through BTSync, I have now discovered a seamless way of transferring files ‘to’ and ‘fro’ my Windows Desktop to the Ipad Mini. Once the Initial configuration is done, and both devices are connected to my Wireless LAN, the BTSync App takes care of syncing data across both the platforms, thus now enabling me to seamless import and export data out of IOS.
Most importantly, it is free.