Thursday, June 21, 2007

The limits of the trusted system?

First of all, to Tarleton, thanks so much for participating in our weblog -- it's great to read a book knowing the author is "out there" and willing to engage in questions.

Now to everyone else, including Tarleton ... I've got to say that I find Gillespie's ideas about the mutually-reinforcing technological, legal, political-economic and social aspects of the "trusted system" (and the "alignment" between these interests necessesary to produce, even temporarily, such a trusted system) very useful in trying to understand the recent history of both copyright law and DRM technology. And in the various corporate mass media cases Gillespie details -- mainstream music MP3 and SDMI, mainstream cinema and DVD and CSS, mainstream television and the "broadcast flag" -- I find very compelling his argument that in the end, the trusted system both forecloses any possibility of media fair use (let alone media civil disobedience) and solidifies the hypercommodification of information "morsels" constrained by the time and space of the "pay per view" mentality.

But I'm curious about other cases we might investigate using these tools. For example, recently Apple brokered a deal with music publisher EMI to sell DRM-free iTunes tracks (though still in Apple's less-commonly-used AAC format, and still with consumer identification metadata embedded within the track). The lack of DRM comes at a price -- a 30 cent premium over the usual cost of 99 cents per iTunes song -- but also brings a higher sampling bitrate for those looking for better sound quality (though I'd bet I can't tell the difference on my crappy iPod headphones). It seems to me that these two motivations behind the trusted system -- discouraging new copies (really, prohibiting all but a very narrow range of uses and exchanges) and capturing new revenue streams -- still operate in the Apple/EMI decision. But the balance between the two has momentarily changed. Perhaps these kinds of reversals in policy are to be expected in a competetive environment for digital music (and digital music player) sales ... but I wonder if this counter-example to Gillespie's story demands some further analysis? Or does it already fit within his framework?

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