Four Pillars: EAI and DRM

Imagine this. Imagine you are part of a household of three people, living in the same house. Make it simpler, assume you are related by blood and marriage (or its civil equivalent). You have a bunch of 33rpm vinyl albums, some cassette tapes, some videotapes and quite a few CDs and DVDs. Maybe some lacquer 78s as well, and a host of 45rpm singles.

Imagine you have paid the new market price for all those things. In effect, you have done your bit to meet the business expectations of all those people involved in writing, publishing, recording, manufacturing, marketing and distrubuting all those things. You have never allowed anyone else to make a copy of those things; you may have burned the odd CD for parties or for the car, but that’s all.

Everyone’s happy.

Now to play all this you have all the necessary gadgets as well. Which you have also paid the ruling market price for. You have a Victrola, a turntable, a cassette tape player, a videotape player, a CD player, a DVD player and a gazillion iPods. And maybe some MP3 players, half a gazillion computers and something that aspires to be Sky+ or Tivo.

With the advance of technology, you can now digitise all this and make it available to yourself to watch or listen to wherever you like. Any room at home, and even while on the road.

And someone stops you. Stops you from watching or listening to the things you’ve already paid full market price for, using the devices you’ve already paid full market price for, stops you spending your own time and money converting all these different formats into one elegant whole. Stops you despite your having ponied up at every stage already. Stops you despite the investment you made in getting broadband and ethernet and broadband wireless and Airport and whatever else you may have acquired.

And calls it customer choice, somehow insinuates at the same time that you’re stealing money from the artists you already paid by doing anything with the stuff you paid for.

I guess you’d get slightly irritated. And rail at Apple or Microsoft or Sony or Hollywood or everyone else involved in this mess. And then meekly put up with it.

Is that harsh? Calling us meek? I don’t think so.

Why ever not? Today, that’s how it feels to me when I look at information in any organisation. First we pay for creating it or acquiring it, but it stays with the “devices” that are lock-stepped with the “content”. Our devices. Our content. Then we pay for a whole pile of EAI and “middleware”, to try and release from lock-in what we have paid for at least once already, probably much more than that. Then we pay for making this humongous beast “secure”, and in the process ensure that we spend even more money trying to extricate from our own dungeons what is ours in the first place. And, just in case we feel we haven’t spend enough money on this, we start introducing more and more DRM, which makes a fine art of data/device lock-in.

We do this meekly today. And the enterprise IT equivalent of napster and downloads and kazaa and everything else is called opensource. Commoditised future-proof bug-free scaleable attractively-priced infrastructure. Infrastructure which has created an ecosystem that allows us to move our information around without EAI and “data mining” and “business intelligence suites” and whatnot.

[An aside. Think about who pays to bury in six foot of concrete that which you later “mine”. Think about who gets the gold that you mine.]

The truth is, it has taken time for us to be able to work on a common infrastructure with market-driven standards and the possibility of operating without device or other lock-in, and EAI was an opportunity for people to make money while we got there.

But surely not now. Not now when we don’t have to. Not now we have the technology.

Yet we put up with it in every enterprise.

Generation M is round the corner. They perceive value differently, they perceive time differently, they perceive many things differently.

And they’re not going to put up with it. EAI or DRM. They’re not going to put up with paying premium money to do things that are fundamentally closer to deckchairs and Titanics and arrangements than anything else. That’s why Napster and Gnutella and Kazaa and Skype and BitTorrent. That’s why Linux. [Another aside. With all the supergazillions spent on R&D in the technology and telecoms space, just how many of these things came from incumbents? Why? I wonder. Clayton Christenson come back all is forgiven.]
We don’t have to do anything. But if we believe that people are our most important asset, if we believe that the social cost of implementing systems is a magnitude greater than the physical cost, if we believe that we have gained anything at all from Moore and Metcalfe and Gilder, if we believe there is a war for talent, and if we believe that the best business strategies begin with “First Get Good People”, then we may have to do something.

Because competition for Generation M is just one layer of DRMlessness away. One layer of EAIlessness away.

Think about it. What these things represent is equivalent to your being told your ability to drive on a particular road should be tied to the age of the road and the age of the vehicle….

Just a thought.

One thought on “Four Pillars: EAI and DRM”

  1. This is a great post. You captured the crux of this issue. I was amazed last year at the Web 2.0 confereence in SF when teenagers were interviewed. They had thousands of songs on their iPods and they hadn’t paid for any.

    In many casees they paid a great deal for ringtones and games for their cell phones because they were not able to get them any other way.

    It is indeed a generation that will not put up with heavy DRM restrictions that tie content you already paid for to one device. Maybe tiered pricing will emerge but everyone is very scared of the media companies and what they will do in order to extract money from the user.

    Even little things like not being able to skip sections of a DVD are extremely annoying.

    Since foods are forced to label things for health reasons maybe there should be a common label forced on the entertainment industry that describes the basic terms of use for the content you are buying. Ratings could be “Content can be copied to other devices.” “Content can be copied for personal use but not disributed” “Content rights can be transfered simply and easily to another person.” “Content can be converted into any other format for personal use.” Something like this.

    Very good post.

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