There are many ludicrous things about DRM: the belief that the internet was designed to be a distribution mechanism for film and music and nothing else; the belief that it is okay to treat everyone as a criminal; the willingness to chisel artists through patently unfair contracts, while making out that those self-same artists are victims of the general public, the “criminals”; the belief that the creation of artificial scarcities will not be met by artificial abundances. But that’s not what this post is about.
One of the most ludicrous things about DRM, however, is the benighted attempt to sustain a historical distribution model by time-separating geographies. In the past, both for films as well as for music, it was defensible while remaining unpalatable.
Let’s take film. In order to keep production costs down, each film would have a finite number of prints made, and these prints would have to be sent around the world. So, while I was growing up, by the time a new film made it to India, it was marked by scratches and cuts and noughts and crosses. The condition was not really germane, the real problem was the time. Films arrived in India a long time after they were released in the US or UK.
When it came to music, something similar happened. LPs and singles were stamped locally from masters, and there must have been a finite number of masters made. And as usual India had to wait for the masters to arrive before the records could be stamped and released. As a result, “western” music arrived in India some time after the US or UK release.
We had the Sixties, yes, but not at the same time as everyone else. With the advent of digital media, there is no reason to time-separate markets, no reason for India to see a film later than the US. The primary reason, the protection of historical distribution models, is an outrage. The oft-quoted primary reason, the need to stamp out piracy, is inane: piracy would drop substantially if release was same-time worldwide.
But that’s not the point of this post either.
The point of the post is this: In the Sixties and early Seventies, for all the reasons quoted above, western music arrived late to India. Which meant that, for example, someone like Leonard Cohen was very popular for most of the 1970s.
I was thirteen when the Seventies began. Now I like Leonard Cohen. A lot. I have a signed first edition of Beautiful Losers, I have every album he’s ever made, I count Famous Blue Raincoat as one of my top 25 songs ever. [There’s something haunting, something deeply satisfying, about the lilting cadence of and-then-Jane.Came.By-with-a-lock-of-your-hair. She-said.That-you-gave-it-to-her. The-night. That-you-planned-to-go-clear. Did you ever go clear?]
Yes, I like Leonard Cohen.
It feels strange to think that tonight, as the UK gears itself for that momentous occasion, the X Factor Finals, children born after Cohen’s children were born are going to sing along to songs written by him. Hallelujah has been chosen as the debut song for the contest’s winner.
Actually, this generation has it easy. My generation, we had to dance to Leonard Cohen, whisper sweet nothings to the girls we were courting while trying to figure out how to look “cool” while “dancing” to Cohen.