The Real Issue
I've made some comments before on this site that have gone largely unnoticed because, well, I'm not very important. Regardless, I feel compelled to share my thoughts with the greater slashdot community because I think that there is a big problem that I don't see a solution for. That problem is, of course, digital rights.
I see digital rights as a bundle of rights that surround a digital good (product). I'm not an ignoramus, but this whole business of protecting digital goods has me completely baffled. So, here's the setup: we have digital content creators, musicians, movie producers, software companies, etc. and we have consumers of that digital content (you and me). Now digital content creators have a notion of what they'd like me to pay for something that they created and that usually winds up being way more than what I'm willing to pay.
Enter the government. Uncle Sam steps in and jabs me with his index finger and says, "You pay those poor suffering content creators the price that they asked or we'll happily let those content creators drag you through court." I may grudgingly pay what they ask a few times, but once I see the content available for free (or very little) I will gravitate toward the cheaper solution.
Enter the content creators. The content creation companies begin to complain to the government that I am cheating them out of their livelihood and demand satisfaction. Uncle Sam then goes after the providers that were providing access to these digital goods at low or no price and attempts to persuade, cajole, and out and out threaten the countries that host these providers in attempts to protect the content creation companies.
Ok. Stop right here for a minute. Answer me this: why is the United States government being so protective of these companies and their products? Do any other companies get this kind of treatment?
So this dance continues round and round all the while the content creators are claiming that they are going bankrupt because of the thievery of their products that is rampant.
Leaving aside for a moment the misguided notion of thievery when it relates to this, what can we learn? While talking with my wife about this, I said, "Sorry, but anything that reduces to 1s and 0s cannot, by definition, be naturally scarce." She rejoins with, "Well, what happens when the content creators decide to stop producing digital content? What happens when we don't have music recordings or movies or software?" Feeling saucy, I said, "Nothing."
The world will continue on with or without these digital products (our current mode of entertainment). My wife, not being happy with that remark, inquired about the future of the people that work for these digital content creators. Surely, this will devastate the world right? Well, there's no way to sugar coat this bad news: when you don't have a naturally scarce product, you're at the mercy of the whims of consumers and legislators alike. One important point to make though is that talented people remain talented people no matter what it is that they produce.
All of that said, I still wanted to try to come up with some alternative way for the digital content creators to stay in business (I like TV, Movies, and Music just like you). I stewed on it for a while and arrived at nothing. Probably because I'm just not smart enough (plenty of smart folks working for these digital content creators though right?), but I honestly cannot think of a single way to make digital goods naturally scarce.
The way I see it, to produce natural scarcity in the digital world, you must first set out to accomplish the impossible: find a way to deliver a digital product to me such that the original copy is preferred over subsequent copies. In other words, somehow magically force all computers in the world to degrade digital (bit for bit) copies of these digital products so that the originals are more desirable. I concluded that logically it just is not possible. But like I said, I'm not that smart, so maybe someone else out there can enlighten me and the rest of the world.