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Challenge to Gain Consumer Support of DRM

I believe that most DRM solutions tend to get in the way of the consumer enjoyment of digital content, especially as the desire to shift content freely between a plethora of player devices becomes the norm. Regardless, some analysts still believe that DRM will survive in the marketplace.

In the long run, digital rights management and conditional access for digital content distribution will enlarge and enable the market for digital content, not suppress it, according to ABI Research.

"Consider the automotive metaphor," advises research director Vamsi Sistla. "At present, consumers of digital media are where the first motorists were at the beginning of the twentieth century, as the first generation of cars hit the streets. There were no driver's licenses, license plates, traffic signals, stop signs, one-way roads, or speeding tickets. As these 'restrictions' were progressively introduced, motorists objected strenuously to each new limitation on their 'freedom.' Yet today, most acknowledge that they allow us to enjoy relative safety on the roads."

When you buy a book or a CD, you can freely lend or give it to somebody else. For digital media today, that kind of freedom is indeed curtailed by digital rights management (DRM) and conditional access (CAS). However these technologies are still in their infancy; they're in a process of evolution which will eventually result in a balance that preserves as much as possible of that pre-digital freedom. We will start to see its true shape by the end of this decade.

For drivers on today's "information freeway", accountable to no-one, DRM and CAS licenses seem intrusive, unwarranted and negative. In Europe, proponents of interoperability and "access for all" are going so far as to legislate against licensing models such as Apple iTunes', and to call in the ombudsmen.

These attitudes show that the consumer presently enjoys considerable sympathy: DRM sets limits, so break the DRM. Yet eventually, ABI Research believes, such protections will be seen as inevitable and necessary to the smooth functioning of digital entertainment and commerce. The change will be driven at least in part by the huge recent expansion in the numbers of content-creators enabled by inexpensive digital equipment and the Internet.

"I feel that as more and more creative people generate digital media and understand the commercial potential of their productions," says Sistla, "attitudes will shift in favor of digital rights management."

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