The celestial jukebox: Be careful what you wish for

Jenny Levine has a poignant post on the perils of DRM for downloaded digital data (four Ds!), in this case MovieLink (and also Rhapsody).

You really should read the whole thing. Here’s a portion, coming after she decided to try MovieLink’s “the first one’s almost free” offer (the old dope peddler taught us well!) to watch a movie on her notebook during recent travel:

Cut to the airport, I’m on the plane and approved portable electronic devices can now be used. I whip out the laptop and bring up MovieLink to watch my movie. Except that I get an error message that my software has not been authorized for the proper security rights and needs to be upgraded. It will now connect to the internet, and this may take a few moments. But of course, I’m 30,000 feet up in the air with no internet, so now I can’t watch my movie. Bah humbug. So I figure that for whatever reason, the software didn’t authorize properly last night, even though it said it did. It lied. I’ll just have to authorize it when I’m online before the presentation, and then I’ll watch it on the flight home.

Yeah, right.

I tried to authorize it during the day, but it kept trying to connect to their server for authorization and ending with an error message that it couldn’t authorize my software. Double bah humbug. So now I don’t get to watch the movie on the way home, either. And with MovieLink, you only get 30 days to watch the movie, and once you start watching it, you only have 24 hours to finish it. Then it goes bye-bye.

So I get home and the next day I use their online chat to talk to technical support. The rep was incredibly nice and empathetic, but no matter what we tried we couldn’t get it working. Mainly because we couldn’t find a folder called “DRM” that was supposed to be on my hard drive. My contact information was taken, and it was promised a rep would get back to me for more detailed support.

There’s more, and it gets worse–when she uses the new Rhapsody, she ends up with her notebook half-crippled.

I think there’s a specific lesson here, although I’m tempted to lard it up with secondary issues.

The specific lesson, at least for those who’ve been enthusiastic about “the celestial jukebox”–the idea that you rent your media and have instant access to everything, and that this is a wonderful idea:

Be careful what you wish for. The celestial jukebox implies DRM, absent socialism or some offensive universal payment system that forces everyone who’s not using the celestial jukebox to pay for it anyway. DRM tends, frequently, to interfere with your computer. (After all, that’s what it’s really all about: Locking down your system so you can’t misuse copyright content.)

I believe that the celestial jukebox can only work “properly” if Big Media gets their way and open PC platforms are done away with, with locked-down systems in their place.

Other issues?

Mostly this one: Why would you pay MovieLink $1.99 to $4.99 (after the first hit to get you hooked) for a 24-hour viewing slot of a degraded version of a movie (I’m just assuming here that the downloaded movie is an overcompressed MPEG4 version–that they’re not downloading 4.7GB of data for a movie), when you could rent the movie from NetFlix (or, if you must, Blockbuster or–no, I can’t even say the W-word) for what should turn out to be no more than $2 if you watch 8-9 movies a month, and keep it as long as you want, with all the extras on a typical DVD and full DVD-quality video and sound? Don’t most newish notebooks have DVD slots?

I guess I just don’t get it. I see the benefit of track-by-track downloading for music, when you may only want one or two tracks from an album–but then you’re buying the music (if still in degraded form). If someone was offering an “all the movies you want, watch them as often as you want, as long as you’re paying us $20/month” service (like the new for music), I guess I could see the point.

I’m sure some of my wonderful readers will tell me why inferior video and no extras is worth paying more for because it’s downloaded rather than mailed. And why that’s worth screwing up your computing environment for. Or, maybe, how DRM is suddenly going to become sweetness & light–but, you know, I’m not going to believe those comments.

One Response to “The celestial jukebox: Be careful what you wish for”

  1. Mark says:

    Thanks Walt! I just finished reading Jenny’s post before coming here and had thought about leaving a comment about “getting what you pay for.” As usual, you said it far more eloquently than I could, or at least would, have.

    Some laptops don’t have CD/DVD drives though to save weight. But if one wants movies on their laptop then maybe they ought to consider the extra weight vs. the extra weight of DRM and computer crippling technologies.