You want to know why we're not drowning in cheap, usable, full-featured digital entertainment yet? The studios are afraid to try it. It's much easier for the entertainment moguls to sleep at night knowing that every digital copy of Alvin and the Chipmunks you can buy comes wrapped in layer upon layer of copy-protection software.
But all Sony (NYSE: SNE ) or Warner Music Group (NYSE: WMG ) accomplishes with these ostensibly anti-piracy measures is to drive away honest, paying customers. The pirates always find a way around any obstacle in their way, and you'll never convince some people to pay for entertainment. Meanwhile, the rest of us are suffering under draconian restrictions, and the stuff we already thought we owned is at the mercy of the seller, long after the transaction.
Foolish community member DavisFreeberg is a tech geek like me. He's a well-known media industry blogger who often writes about Netflix (Nasdaq: NFLX ) , Blockbuster (NYSE: BBI ) , and Amazon.com (Nasdaq: AMZN ) , with a side of hardware reviews. This week, Davis decided to get a high-definition monitor for his PC, and then tried to watch a streaming video from Netflix on the new setup. And it didn't work.
Netflix tech support told him to reset his computer's DRM store, which would allow Netflix to issue a new certificate for his hardware but would also render his Amazon Unbox videos unplayable. There is a way to back up and restore the licenses you need, but it's tedious even when the customer is a card-carrying technophile like me or Davis.
The music industry is slowly coming to its senses and allowing digital media sellers like Amazon and Apple's (Nasdaq: AAPL ) iTunes to sell unprotected files. They're sometimes more expensive than their encumbered equivalents, but that's the price you pay for not living with a sword of Damocles (i.e., revoked privileges) hanging over you. And since many of the same music companies also run movie studios, it's starting to look like we'll get all-around sensible digital media in our lifetime.
I'm willing to bet that the record labels have figured out where their best interests lie already (though they also need to stop the lawsuit jihad against core customers). So who'll be first among the movie/TV studios? Kevin Tsujihara leading the Time Warner charge? Or Anne Sweeney for Disney (NYSE: DIS ) ? The first player to take that leap of faith will find itself richly rewarded, while the rest will rush to follow.